KATSI YII MI CHI HA RA
English translation by
Chapter 1........ 11
Chapter 2 . 27
Chapter 3.. . 51
Chapter 4 . 71
Chapter 5 . 99
Chapter 6 . 131
(5 AS AN)
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Darkness as far as the eye could see.
Not a darkness so impenetrable that it crushed
the senses with an unbearable claustrophobia, but a kind
of looming shadow transparent enough to reveal the
outlines of the surrounding environment.
Programmed for ’‘all-season comfort,” the air
conditioner barely made a whisper. And yet the wafting
air currents undulated like shimmering heal waves
traversing the contours of the uneven dark. They were as
a heavy, opaque mass of an ice floe descending into the
And then came the faint rustling of sheets from
the bed in the middle of the room. Shadows wavered
back and forth, as if buoyed on the ripples of fevered heat
swelling up from the deep well of silence. The shadows
writhed left and right, suddenly stiffening in apparent
rigidity. The occupant of the bed turned over and over,
wide awake, vexed with a persistent insomnia.
Or perhaps by the visitation of bad dreams?
No, that was not it either. Not that he could not
bed himself down, but theft he could not raise himself up
His wrists were firmly bound together above
Ins head, while his strained arms trembled slightly. He
clenched his fists, suggesting an exasperated defiance of
12 Ai No Kusabi ~ The Space Between
his confined state.
But lie must free himself, no matter the cost.
Though for one possessed of such an indomitable spirit,
he did not seem to be struggling with any great frenzy of
Perhaps he had given up the fight or had
grown weary of resistance. Mis expression remained
inscrutable, though now and then there spilled from his
lips a low, moaning groan—the sound of a man reaching
the limits of his perseverance.
He twisted his captive body to restrain what
was bursting forth uncontrollable from within him,
desperately clenching his teeth in order to resist it.
In such sounds were echoes of litter pathos. At
the core of these utterances, a listener could almost catch
the breathings of satiated sighs, permeated with deeply
lascivious colors and scents.
Son — of—a — bitch! You —
The maledictions rose in his mouth, his breath
shaking, his lips trembling, the mounting frenzy of his
pounding pulse burning at his throat. As the repeated
imprecations welled up and oozed away, he knew that
doing so only ate away at his innards like a powerful
poison. And yet the curses spilled out of him.
Goddamn fucking —/
Shedding tears without shame or honor, his
eroded willpower and punished pride tossed to the wind,
he scolded himself, biting his bottom lip bard enough to
No matter how hard he screamed, his cries
reached no ears but his own. He was struck by the
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
realization that if he cried for mercy at the top of his
lungs, no one would listen. For the room in which he was
bound, in stark contrast to its resplendent furnishings,
was nothing if not a bleak jail eel L
How much time had passed since he'd been
injected with the aphrodisiac? He'd lost all sense of ti me
passing. Possibly a mere ten minutes, but it was more
hkelv that a good hour had passed since the injection.
His head throbbed to the core of his brain.
The muscles in his groin tightened to the point
of pain. Spasms shook him to his fingertips. His breath
grew ragged and his parched throat cried out tor reliet.
And then there was his hotly erect member, so aroused
as to send a dull numbness Seeping through his loins,
so engorged as to press the veins and capillaries to the
His whole body had to climax! He could not
restrain himself any longer!
Contorting his body and grinding his thighs
together only intensified the agony, for his constricted
organ seemed to want to spend itself in the worst way
possible. His field of vision misted red. From his nether
regions, the fevered convulsions surged through him,
threatening to splinter his spine.
Restrained by a ring at the base of his cock, he
couldn't ejaculate. Not at all. “Son of a bitch!" he spat,
his lips trembling. Barely conscious, he repeated the
word over and over, “Shit, shit, shit!”
He knew of no other way to escape the searing
torture that even breathing had become.
That was when the door to the room slid open.
right to left. Preoccupied with the anguish consuming
him to the core* he didn t notice the Man entering the
The Man approached the Captive with careful
steps. He carried himself with a supple grace, the thick
carpet itself absorbing any audible evidence of his
presence. Wordlessly he touched a switch by the bed.
The room at once filled with soft light. Having
been held prisoner in darkness, the gentle brightness all
but blinded the Captive. Even when narrowing his eyes,
it took him a long minute to become accustomed to the
He took in the striking countenance of a
beautiful yet merciless Man who seemed not to possess
a speck of vulnerability, and tears sprang to his eyes. I lis
willpower and endurance, stretched now to the breaking
point, suddenly sagged in the face of the Man.
“And how are we doing? Holding up well
The Man's voice was several degrees colder
than his indifferent mien suggested. A listener could not
help but be persuaded by the particular firmness in his
voice, a firmness that imparted the harshness of someone
we 11-accustomed to giving orders,
“Enough alreadyr the Captive implored,
twisting his body, choking back tears.
And yet the Man moved not an eyebrow. “1
offered you the chance to lake your best shot with any of
the others. I gave you no leave to go and mount up some
There was a disturbing discrepancy between the
16 Ai No Kusabi — The Space Between
nonchalant tone of his voice and his eyes, which were
cold as death. "At the very least, you knew that Mimea
was espoused, did you not? Even Raoul is casting
aspersions, saying you've gone and ruined everything.
These are your just desserts. 1 '
The Captive could only lie there, catching his
breath in response to the deliberate, yet harsh, words
flung his way.
"Did your vanity really convince you that you
could win Mimea over? That being the case, even if you
were simply playing Casanova, you surely knew that
there arc rules of the game that must be respected?"
Behind the Man, a woman’s shrill voice shot
through the room, "it wasnk a game!"
The Captive shrank back, as if stung by the
snap of her voice. His eyes widened in surprise, seeing
Mimea’s face exposed to the world after so many
“She insisted on meeting you, and she wouldn’t
take no for an answer. Well, it's said that love is blind,
but what the two of you don't seem to understand is that
this is not your decision to make. So let’s hear it straight
from the horse's mouth,"
Hear what? the Captive's quavering eyes asked
silently, vaguely beginning to anticipate what the man
was going to say next.
“/'he relationship was never real —that is what
he said. If not Mimea. then any warm body would
have sufficed. He was intrigued only by the body being
At that moment, another sensation crept up the
Captive’s spine. Not the arousing spasms of pleasure,
bui something more akin a cold, dark despair.
“As long as he was given an unoccupied pussy
in which to quench his hoi, throbbing manhood, it did
not matter whose it was. Isn't that what you said?”
The Man would not be challenged. The threats
implicit in the undercurrents of his voice overwhelmed
the senses. The Captive’s cheeks stiffened, and in that
frozen state he gulped for breath and swallowed, bard.
But before he could will his trembling lips to
respond, the woman spoke up. “ r l hat’s a lie! You’re all
ganging up on us, trying to destroy our relationship!”
She hardened her voice and glared reproachfully at the
Man, To Mimea, the person who could shackle her lover
as he pleased was more a rival for her affections than a
symbol of ultimate authority.
“Do you know who Raoul chose as my partner?
Jena! Supposedly because he’s got good genes The
wav her words trembled and trailed off indicated the
desperate nature of her emotions. “I'll have none of
it! His perverted nature is written all over his face. The
thought of being held by him . . . of having a child by
him ,,. makes me sick!"
As a woman this was something her pride
would not allow, and yet almost in the same breath she
addressed i he Captive, with a certain pained affection.
"You’re different from other people, aren't you? You
love only me, don’t you?”
But the Captive didn't hear the half of what she
said. It took a his effort simply to keep from groaning
aloud, contorting his body in order to stave off the
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
recognition of that which had been thrusting itself into
the conversation this whole time. The only thing he
salvaged from Mi men’s words was that the exposure of
his covert meetings with her would bring down censure
upon her head.
Back when their secret became public, his mates j
had joined in the castigations. “We've got no use for a
chap who falls for a slumming Academy-manufactured
princess. ” 1
Of Mimea it was said: “She’s no judge of men.
falling for (rash like dial." Such were the manner of
words spoken behind her back. The envied product of
the Academy on the one hand, and himself on the other:
bom and raised among the k dregs. 1
But Mimea knew. Beneath the shadows of the j
ceaseless ridicule, behind the scourging hands of public
censure and the daggers of reproachful looks, one and all
had acutely realized what a rare specimen he was.
Despite the merits of his lineage (or the lack 1
thereof), despite the beauty of his countenance (or
the lack thereof), despite his criminal record (or the
lack thereof) the uniqueness of his presence alone
bewitched people. For good or ill, that primal sense of
self that up until then he’d believed had been etched in
stone had been crushed without mercy. I
Mimea hod seen the end from the beginning:
the day-to-day deceptions keeping them apart, the
affectations of territoriality, the souls glittering beneath
the bell jar.
Amongst all her colleagues he was the most
beautiful of all. None of the flagrant and malicious
gossip, o) the dark jealousies, or the insidious behavior
goi under his skin. His speech and conduct remained
uncivilized in the extreme and his utterly uncooperative
spirit never allowed him to go along just to get along.
Nevertheless, his actions were not without meaning. He
atone achieved a particular kind of “purity.”
Which was why Mimea wanted him, no matter
what. Although both birds in a cage, she wanted to
believe (hat their pairing might lead to something
That was why she reached out to him. why she
teased him with kisses, threw herself into his embrace,
and so ardently desired to fuse their bodies as one. Thus
would he become hers and hers alone.
Such had been the brittle, naive dreams she
Despite his outwardly blunt and curt behavior,
up until a few days ago he had always looked at her with
eyes softer than any other. Now, however, he turned his
taco away with no offer of explanation. Fo Mimea. this
burden was the hardest to bear. His silence kindled in her
an inexpressible anxiety.
“Why won’t you say anything?”
She now had to confront reality: he didn’t
w ish to see her. What was the value of a life bound by
invisible chains? A life compelled—
The jumble of thoughts pained her heart. Unable
to bear it any longer, she cried out almost hysterically.
“Why won't you look at me? Say something, please!”
She raised her eyebrows and pursed her red lips,
knowing he was unlikely to spare her even a glance. In
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
one moment, she had been shown the ugliness of an
unimaginable betrayal, illustrated in the turned back of
the Captive who would not even rise to defend himself
with a man’s typical bluster. She could not speak, for all
her anger—such was the fire in her eyes.
Ah. this is the end. the Captive thought in his
“Coward!” Mimea reviled him, her voice almost
becoming a scream.
With that came a rending, tearing sensation in
his back, like being flogged with a nail-studded whip.
He bit down on his lip all the harder. Brine oozed from
parted teeth, stinging his throat as if wrapping it in
thorns, the pain twining together with the scorching heat
of the poison burning in his chest. His limbs stiffened. It
was either a moan or a sobbing groan that emerged from
his locked jaws.
Even he hardly knew the difference.
Standing at his back, Mimea turned away, her
“And perhaps you as well have learned a thing
Having assured himself that Mimea was moving
with all due haste toward the door, the Man sat down on
the edge of the bed. He was taking his time.
“Well, this conclusion was entirely obvious from
the beginning,” lie murmured smoothly. He stripped off
the blankets, revealing a naked body that was still in the
process of growing into an adult. The supple symmetry
in the Captive’s maturing limbs and the manner in which
Ids body writhed in the agonies of pleasure only worked
to arouse the Man's sadism.
The Man's gaze crawled across the Captive’s
body- His cold and placid eyes reflected no heightened
passion, no racing pulse. Only when the Man’s cruel
gaze fell between the Captive's thighs did his face
darken in the slightest.
The hard, aroused crown of the Captive’s
manhood cried out to his tormentor. I want to come! Let
“You want to come?” the Man whispered, in a
The Captive's lips trembled as he caught his
breath, his watering eyes pleading for him. He forced
himself to nod stiffly, repeatedly.
The Captive took a deep breath as the Man
deftly parted his knees. He believed at long last he was
about to be released from this maddening torture.
However, as if to scorn such rash optimism, with
not so much as glance at his swollen, ripened cock, the
Man exposed the underside of the Captive's left thigh
and with his finger gently stroked iIte valley dividing the
With a groan, the Captive’s eyes rolled back in
“You enjoyed Mimea's pleasures without my
leave. Did you really believe that you could wrap up
everything so cleanly after it was made known, just like
For the first time, a real shadow of fear clouded
the Captive's eyes.
As always, the Man was the most serene of
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
masters, lo the point of appearing excessively frigid.
But beneath the facade of this man, whose voice never
wavered in the slightest, hid the face of a hard and
relentless taskmaster. The Captive knew this better than
Which is why, at this juncture, he did not throw
himself at the man's mercy, pleading “Why?"
When his relationship with Mimca had been
revealed to the Man, he'd been the defiant one. He'd
cuckolded her consort and lost himself in the affair that
ensued. It was something anyone could have done, but
that was not why he did it.
He loved Mimea. Her glamorous appearance.
Her pure and cultivated haughtiness. Her ignorance ot
the real world, into which she never ventured beyond her
assigned place in life. The softness of her skin wherever
he touched her. He loved everything about her.
She held no prejudices toward him the way
others did. She was his only companion. She accepted
all of his maverick qualities at face value, and him as
a mere human being. And yet he knew that there was
a dark side to their brief “honeymoon" together, and
whenever they spoke to each other as “lovers" . . . and
that was the secret thrill he got from betraying the Man.
It was because the Captive had found himself
in a gilded cage he had never desired. For a feral child
who’d never stooped to lick another's boots, who'd
known nothing but his own hard-earned self-respect, that
uncontrollable sense of claustrophobia was suffocating
tn this state, things could only go from bad to
worse. He was chatting at the bit, rotting from the inside
out, and it was killing him. Casting his bruised pride to
the wind and kissing up to the Man would destroy it
once and for all.
That’s why, even when the moment of truth
came, he took it lightly. That made his sense of guilt
toward the Man—and all the more so toward Mimea—
that much more intense.
But now. Now, fear touched his heart.
“With Mimea—it was—we did it only once.”
He knew that the Man would never fall for such
a clumsy excuse, but he also knew, with a certain sense of
dread, that he had to offer some sort of rationalization,
“One time is as good as a hundred, as far as I
am concerned. That you held her in your arms is reason
enough. 1 '
The ball o the Man’s finger crept teasingly
toward his anus. The Captive jerked. Not only had
his penis ripened to an oozing plumpness from such
paroxysms of pleasure, but the hidden flower of his
bowels as well. That which under ordinary circumstances
opened its petals only to persistent foreplay had already
As if to drive home the reality of its promiscuous
condition, the Man skimmed the folds of the flower with
his fingertips. “You like it the best here, like this
But his body betrayed the Captive before the
words could emerge from his throat.
The realization that he was powerless to restrain
himself only left him more afraid. Cioosebumps erupted
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
wherever his flesh succumbed to the raining pins and
needles of pleasure.
Slowly, the Man penetrated him with his finger,
triggering provocative undulations in the Captive’s
body. The sensation aroused a guttural groan as his loins
twisted and writhed uncontrollably.
“What’s this? Trying to salvage your ego even
now? How about giving us a good yelp for a change?”
The Man's voice possessed the stillness of
permafrost, as far removed from his normal coolness
as could be imagined. Indeed, such imaginings alone
left the Captive speechless with fear. With every turn
of the Man's lasciviously worming finger, the chronic
throbbing contracted further, producing an intense and
spreading numbness throughout his body.
Half-unconsciously the Captive tightened his
sphincter. But instead of repelling the invasion of the
foreign object, his body gripped the Man’s digit more
tightly, drawing it deeply inside him with increasing
pleasure. And as he did so, the quivering in his loins
began to mount slowly with a shameless, if charming
| learly not even that was sufficient for the Man,
who licked his earlobe and murmured in his ear, “Yes,
that’s a good boy.”
"Hi Hi —" trilled the Captive. ’! here was a small
scream, and his back arched. The whirlpool of tiny,
tingling teeth gnawing at his spine suddenly bared their
fangs and pierced the top of his skull. His outstretched
arms and strained legs jerked and convulsed.
With a vengeance the Man jammed his finger
deeper, causing fiery darts to scorch the insides of the
Captive’s eyelids. He caught his breath, feeling as if
every blood vessel in his body was about to burst. Not
only his swollen cock, but his painfully erect nipples as
He could have escaped the truly unbearable
agony by fainting, but the Man forced him to pant
laboriously for air, not letting him come. Bringing the
bud of his anus to such effulgent bloom, the Man bound
him to consciousness with lust, toying with his nether
parts without respite.
M Ahhhh ,., haaaa ... hnnrmn
The Captive’s trembling lips shook with ragged
breaths that pulsed in his throat. His hips heaved
violently, yet drew forth only a premature, glistening
thread, and with it not a single promise of release.
Aaaaargh .. . /”
With every half-cry that escaped his throat, cries
approaching a scream, his body burned all the way down
to the tip of his rod's honeyed mouth. Such was the
unimaginable menace in the Man’s practiced foreplay.
The Man toyed mercilessly with the Captive’s
piercingly hard nipples, making him keen, lie brought
forth the naked head of the Captive’s shuddering stamen
to caress it with his fingertips, making the Captive howl.
His anus having tightly swallowed one finger, the Man
twisted in a second, forcing it wider,
As tears streamed down his face, the Captive
gasped, pleading in ragged shards of language. “Enough
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
. . * no more . . . won '(... do . again . . . ahhhT
He was begging, pleading for forgiveness. Not
again. Never again. He d never do it again!
The earnest words rose again and again as if in
a fevered delirium from his benumbed, frozen mouth.
The Man once again whispered into his ear. “I'll let you
come. As often as you wish. Until you regret that you
ever held Mimea in your arms, 1 '
And then with unequalled, frigid calmness, he
pronounced the verdict, one imbued with a maddening
darkness: “You are my pet. Know this to the marrow of
The Man's upturned blue eyes were so
unimaginably beautiful that they could make anybody
tremble with awe. In this moment, however, they also
glimmered with an icy lire perhaps revealing the fury
of his wounded pride, or rather, a manifestation of his
It did not matter which of these was correct.
For the Man was aware that at the base of his haughty
convictions, there swirled a dark whirlpool of twisted
jealousy towards Mimea.
Midas. Sin city. A Caligula scorning the silent,
tranquil passing of the midnight hours.
Or perhaps a Mephistopheles more evil than
any conniving sovereign. Or an embodied Shangri-La
hiking up the hems of her layered, neon-bright kimono,
seducing souls while wanton laughter spilled from the
comers of her mouth.
Midas’ rotting will and heart and intellect
collected hither and yon in stagnating pools and ruled
without question over a darkness beholden to no one.
For all these reasons it was called the Midas
Pleasure Quarters. The infamous city was an urban
satellite of the central metropolis of Tanagura, itself
ruled by Lambda 3Q>0, the giant mainframe known as
“Jupiter.’ Its virtual precincts served up every imaginable
mode of amusement, answering to the wants and needs
of mortal flesh. There one could find casinos, bars,
brothels, and all facets of the entertainment industry-.
Within the boundaries of Midas, morals and
taboos did not exist. Only the night filled with salacious,
suspicious, and patronising glitz. Here, the hud and
garish hours wasted away until the dawn.
But beneath its dazzling outward appearance
hid another, more repulsive face: the grotesque visage of
Midas supping at an endless banquet table of pleasure,
where unfettered basic instincts entwined with human
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
desire stripped bare.
The boundlessly promiscuous and enticing
lightbeams tloated on the darkness, and at the foot of
these gigantic, fluorescing bug zappers, the jam-packed
hordes bathed in the sluggish, lukewarm breezes. The
clinging breath of Midas coiling about a man s listless
limbs was nothing if not an aphrodisiac, numbing
rationality and turning the heart and mind to jelly.
But heading across the overpasses away
from the two concentric rings that formed the core oi
Midas Area 1 (Lhassa) and Area 2 (Flare)- these
besotted sensations faded. In the time it took to" the cold
night air to dissipate them, the urban landscape changed
The outskirts of Midas. Special Autonomous
Area 9. C'erex. The scorned “Crotch of Midas." The
slums. Even the proprietors of the Pleasure Quarters
furrowed their brows in distaste and never broached its
There were no hard, high walls isolating it from
the adjoining areas, no interdicting lasers preventing
intrusion or trespass. Nevertheless, the avenues
separating here from there marked an abrupt change in
scenery obvious to all but the blind.
No signs of human habitation could be seen on
the rubble and trash-strewn streets. Needless to say, the
flood of garish neon staining the Midas nights was a
world away, setting the crumbing walls of ihe buildings
alight with a dirty brown afterglow.
Its odd and dissolute appearance suggested that
the indifferent passing of lime had suddenly retracted
upon itself, warping past and future in an unexpected
As did the relentless enthusiasm erupting from
the Pleasure Quarters. As did the coquettish voices,
smothered with flattery, scattered on the wind. Nothing
reached this wasteland except in surrender to the
confusion of ominous and ghastly colors.
Ceres was home to the night soil left behind in
the dust of the era. Any determination to clean out the
steaming piles had long since exhausted itself. And any
capacity for self-renunciation and purification that could
have resurrected the community as a community had
died long ago.
I he only sound reaching the ears were the
occasional stirrings of deeply-held resentments and
depraved sighs, day and night sowing the stench of rot
and death. Nothing could thrive in this poisoned ground,
not people and not a ciiy. Growing accustomed to the
constant drizzle of scorn, a man 's dreams rotted away
and died in the slums.
To the citizens of Ceres, the central metropolis
of Tanagura (where everything was and would be
shipshape to the end of time) was a long, long way
away. An unimaginably different world. Here they
were not even permitted to lick the boots of Midas, that
vainglorious despot of the night.
! bey lived in Ceres with the painful realities of
the present and the ghoslly dreams of the wrecked past.
No one ever promised them a rose garden.
That day the heavy leaden clouds moved
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
through the skies with an unexpected quickness. The
weather somehow held throughout the morning, turning
bad just past noon. In the space often minutes, a sudden
downpour became a violent thunderstorm.
The rain drummed incessantly on the ground
as if to pound the slums themselves out of existence.
The drains in the garbage-laden streets clogged and
overflowed. With nowhere else to go. the runoff grew
into a rampaging river that washed everything away
Then came the night.
Having wrecked its mayhem and retreated, the
storm left behind a sky shot through w ith stars. On this
night alone the typically dull darkness was strangely,
and refreshingly, clear.
The night’s ambience alone proved refreshing.
In honor of the afternoon’s downpour, the youth of the
slums had whiled away the hours isolated in their hovels.
Now they busily vented all that stored up heat.
Males poured down the alcohol and rushed
through obligatory bouts of sex abetted by further
helpings of drugs, There was nothing at all unusual
about gangbangers prowling this cramped territory',
knocking heads and causing trouble.
The balance of power in Area 9 changed with
the seasons. Which was to say, despite the generous
application of herbicide, some new species of weed
would eventually spring to life after the rains went away.
Yet for the most part they possessed so little spit and lire
that even gossip about coups and internal rivalries was
rarely taken seriously. These gang conflicts could hardly
be said to constitute a “rivalry' of warlords,”
I The place stunk to high heaven with rogue males
and beasts ol burden, but no one had the strength of
personality to drag them into line and begin to conquer.
In the end. however, there was no denying these ongoing
turf wars, whose violence could in large part be blamed
lor the deterioration of public order in the slums.
I Recently, the struggle for supremacy in Area
9 had arisen between Jocks (one of the new breed of
| ‘‘Hyper Kids”), and Mad Dog Maddox, fighting to retain
his lost power base. It was said that this constituted a
battle between the old and new' regimes, and all the
while, powerful third parties hung back in the shadows,
waiting for the right moment to strike.
I It was in this fashion that, for almost four years,
rather than putting their own lives and credibility on the
line and simply taking what they wanted for themselves,
it was the scrambling after scraps—the ensuring of
mutual restraint through mutual spinelessness—that had
become common practice.
: Back in the day, Bison had run the Area 9 free
fire zone, also known as “Hot Crack.” But at the pinnacle
ol their success they abruptly disbanded, and a successor
had not since been decided upon.
| Now it came down to either Jeeks or Maddox.
“All that remains is the timing of the coup de
grace," boasted the big mouths. But to pull that off,
one decisive element was lacking: a strength of will
that would charm followers and multiply the collective
Ai No Kusabi I he Space Between
power of their individual strengths.
The slums had once known a man possessed of
such extraordinary charisma. The boy left the Guardian
foster center at the age of thirteen with no special
position or privileges, yet in a surprisingly short time
he'd made a name for himself in the slums.
It was not because of his striking appearance.
Nor did he curry favor needlessly, nor was he quick to
bend the knee, nor was his trust easily earned. Everybody
who knew him agreed that it was because of the superior
nature of his personality that belied his mere thirteen
“He’s a regular Varja," they said, “Beholding to
no one." *
All of the residents of Midas knew of the
mythical beast Varja, also known as Ragon, demon
god of the underworld, or Grendei. the soul destroyer.
A beast of prey that could crush a limb to the bone with
a single chomp of its steel jaws and razor-sharp fangs. A
disdainful chimera taking to the air with the four wings
on its back, its coat glowing with a bewitching black
On one hand, he was compared to that Varja
because of his jet-black hair and obsidian eyes, unique
even in the slums that scorned him as a mongrel and a
On the other, it was due to the calculated ferocity
that could never be imagined behind such a delicate
appearance. I f “survival of the fittest" was the law of the
jungle, then the weak seeking out the patronage of the
strong and drawing close to them was a particular quirk
of human behavior.
However, he took no notice of those sucking up
and lavishing meaningless compliments upon him. And
though well connected, he demanded no particular quid
pro quo in return. It was because he always had at his
side a “pairing partner,” someone who could be called
his "better half," It was no exaggeration to say that he
had eyes for none other than that youth.
Assuming that a person matures over the years
as the trials of life accumulate, there are also those
whose superior character yields neither to age nor
gender. Every move lie made was studied with an almost
blatant inlerest and a curiosity, and yet, he gave all this
attention little thought in the course of his day-to-day
Vet there was neither restraint nor mercy in the
hand that so modestly brushed away the sparks alighting
on his own person. Even so, the circle of those enchanted
by his charisma continued to expand, and with him
commanding the troops, it was only logical that Bison
should have risen suddenly to prominence,
But then that dav. Like a boh out of the blue.
Bison disintegrated in mid-air. The slums looked on in
disbelief, speechless with amazement. Gone, just like
There were no two ways about it. The word
went forth lhat Riki had retired from Bison.
Why? What were the reasons?
An extraordinary shock raced through the slums,
accompanied by a flurry ot obscenities and exaggerated
rumors masquerading as conjecture: The truth of Bison’s
Ai No Kosabi The Space Between
dissolution remained wrapped in mystery. ^ |
Only he could lead them. Regardless of the truth
behind Bison's demise. Bison lacked Riki’s fierce center
of gravity and simply ceased to be. And so Bison all but
went extinct, leaving only garish urban folklore behind
in its wake.
Almost four years had passed since then.
The original Bison members had steadily
reestablished themselves in their own way (though it d
be hard to say they’d done a good job of it), and the
neighborhood had grown restless.
Naturally, over these four years a great number
of pretenders had attempted to win them over and jack
up the street cred of their own groups. Bison may have
dissolved, but its strong presence continued to be felt,
and young bloods eager to grasp even the tiniest shaie ol
that glory made transparent attempts to win them over.
While there were those who both publicly and
privately proclaimed themselves remnants of the Bison
fringe. Riki’s old partner and the rest of the Bison
veterans resisted the urge, no matter how solicitous
the flattery became. Alter tasting the thrill ol standing
shoulder to shoulder with Riki and running with his
pack, nothing could take his place.
The same way standing water goes bad, the
qualities of a conflict changed with time. 1 hose who
couldn’t ride the rising tide of the era were destined to
fall behind and kiss somebody elsc’s ass.
Seen in that light, ihe choice of the former Bison
members was a heartfelt one. i heir past glories had been
cruelly reduced to rubble. Avoiding the humiliation
of becoming somebody else's bitch could at least be
counted as an accomplishment.
And yet now there emerged those who held
their presence in pure contempt. Clinging to the ultra-
right wing were .leeks and Maddox. Jeeks of the Hyper
Kids and Mad Dog Maddox. No matter how much they
extended their power and influence into the slums, other
groups gave them a cold shoulder.
"They're not anything like Bison!”
“Posers! Nothing but pretenders!”
Calling them out and drawing the comparison
to Bison— always the same, loathsome, knee-jerk
Bison. Bison! Bison!
Undoubtedly, those who saw themselves as the
two power brokers of the slums had gotten led up with
the sound of that name. They could take no pride in
facing ofl against the pretensions of a legend that was
now a shadow of what it used to be. And that was why
they promised once and for all that they would smash
the rotting remains of the name “Bison" and everything
associated with it.
The two circling moons had never been so
beautiful, dyeing the night sky in bright relief.
“Haa — haa — haa —”
Panting, Kirie pressed his face against a
crumbling wall in a vacant back alley and took a long.
Ai No Kusabi — The Space Between
hard breath. He’d left his room and come to the usual
gathering spot, intending to hook up with his mates. So
what the hell was going on?
Sons of bitches! Bunch of dirty, low down—
The surprise attack had come out of nowhere.
He’d somehow parried the first blow, and after that he’d
taken off, running tike crazy, trying to shake off his
pursuers. Now, he didn't have the slightest idea where
His heart pounded like a drum and the sweat
streamed off of him. All that escaped the iron trap of his
mouth were the muffled bellows ot rage.
Shit! Shit! Shit! 4
Cussing was the only thing he could do in
his current state of mind. Kirie wiped away the sweat
coursing down his forehead. It was then, as he surveyed
his surroundings, that a dot of red flame unexpectedly
popped up in the darkness at the far reach of his I
He ducked his head instinctively, startled. As he I
did. he cast a quick glance beyond the wall and dimly
observed someone sitting on the rubble of the destroyed I
building opposite. The corroded alleyway was painted in j
the shades ofthe night, lit up only by the precarious blue |
light ofthe two moons turning overhead. I
The dot of red light was probably from a lit
cigarette. What the hell was that guy thinking, lighting |
up in a place like this? As he raised his eyebrow's at the
question, the sound of approaching footsteps echoed j
down the alleyway.
38 Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between I
’‘He there?” 1|
“Naw. Looks like he took off.” I
“I told you we shouldn’t have pussy-footed
around like that. We should have gone straight at him.” fl
“The hell you say? That little bastard was fast.”
The high register of their voices suggested boys
young enough that their voices hadn't broken yet. The
shadowy figures blustered on irritatedly.
“What are we gonna do now’? He saw' us.”
The atmosphere surrounding them was thick
with fear and loathing. S
Kirie was outnumbered. If he was discovered
here, he had about a one-in-ten odds of emerging without
considerable battle damage. Cognizant of the realities
around him, he sank down further into the darkness,
only now managing to catch his breath. ■
“Big deal. We lit a fire under his ass. That should
be good enough, huh? No second guessing ourselves
next time. We’ll beat the shit out of him.” I
Kirie curled up his fists and ground his
teeth together at the sound of these chest-thumping
declarations. Smart-ass kids. Kirie himself was a third-
year colony-dwelling kid, but the word on the street said
that the members of the Jeeks gang were all teenagers
less than fifteen years old. In other words, they were
fearless kids only beginning to accustom themselves to
the differences between life at the foster center and life
in the slums, |H
For the same reasons. Bison in its heyday had
been even more precocious and extreme than Jeeks. At
the age of thirteen, whether they liked it or not, the Bison
kids were cut loose from Guardian. Left to their own
devices, they had no choice but to get their shit together,
It was for that reason alone that the gang’s
surviving members had become for Jeeks a constant
pain in the ass. He never passed up the opportunity to
diss the revived Bison as a pale imitation of its former
sell, because as long as Bison existed, everything Jeeks
did would be compared to that “graven image.”
That Riki was no fallen idol only made things
worse. Bowing out on an unbroken winning streak made
him a ghost with references and a resume.
But regardless of what had been then, just
hanging with Bison these days meant a knife in the back
in a dark alley, and Kirie was getting fed up with the
current state of affairs. Regardless, he knew that making
lame excuses about the comer he’d painted himself into
was just spinning his wheels.
The kids that hung with Jeeks weren’t going to
rest easy until they'd tom out anybody associated with
Bison by the roots.
One of the hot-headed Jeeks kids finally noticed
the guy lighting up on top of the pile of bricks. “Hey,
motherfucker! What you doing over there?”
The insolence and arrogance in the question
were the kid's way of venting the irritation over letting
his previous prey escape. But the answer was not what
[; “This is no place for kids to be loitering at all
hours of the night. So piss off and run along home."
The guy responded unexpectedly in a
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
commanding tone of voice, and beneath its sportive tone
was an edge that must have sounded all the more barbed
to these fearless kids. Kirie found himself growling I
under his breath. “Some kind of idiot, that guy is." I
He knew the kids there in front of him ran with
Jeeks. If this guy was looking to pick a fight with them,
then he must have brass ones the size of boat anchors. If
not, he was the biggest fool on the planet. I
“If you knew who you was talking to. old
man, you'd think twice about opening that big mouth
of yours," The kid went on. trying to salve his bruised
honor as a member of the Jeeks gang, “If you don't, then
we'd be happy to teach you. Try not to wet yourself.''
Obviously feeling he'd been dissed, the kid was going
to give back twice what he was given. “It’s too late to go
crying to mama.”
They were determined now to get it on with
him. Looking to blow off some steam, the guy must have
seemed the perfect target. “Yeah, that's right. You're
talking to the Jeeks gang,”
“Jeeks?” the guy shot back w ith a lack of affect
that bordered on disappointment. “Sorry, don't know
him. Is lie the one who changes your nappies every
night, then?” 1
Even sans the sarcasm, his manner of speaking
suggested this was something other than a bad joke, and
Kirie could not but gape at him. He's gotta be wrong in
the head , he thought, the words nearly coming out in a
gasp of disbelief. 1
“You don't know? You don’t know the Jeeks
gang? Just how stupid are you?"
“It's okay. If he doesn't know' then we’l] teach him."
"Damn straight. Within an inch of his fucking life.”
The kids had already gotten their hackles up.
And yet the guy spoke again. “You think you
know the slums. This is different.” He was taking things
at his own pace, right up to the end.
I “Come on down, old man. We re gonna put a
plug in that mouth of yours and tear you a new one.”
“Okay, okay. Let s play, then. Time’s a-wasting.”
The guy descended from the pile of rubble.
A laser knife lore through the darkness. Instead
of staggering backwards in a panic, he nimbly stepped
aside, grabbed the kid's slashing arm and delivered a
solid blow in return. Then, catching the kid off balance,
he mercilessly slammed a roundhouse kick against his
A strange shadow fell around them. No way.
Sheer amazement. No fucking way! They must be
It wasn't simply a difference in physical
constitutions, I hat kind of precise parry and attack
caught everybody by surprise. I hcy staggered back and
gaped. The "Jeeks” way of doing things was to track
down and corner their prey, then gang up and hit where
it was weakest. They didn't dawdle. They made up tor
their physical shortcomings with numbers and delivered
the pain, so that the one pleading for mercy, blubbering
like a baby, crawling away a misshapen wreck, was
always the prey.
But this well-practiced game plan had been
easily turned around by a single guy—
42 Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
Draped in the darkness, Kirie murmured to
himself. "Holy freaking cow.”
’‘An eye for an eye, that’s ihe law of the slums.
And while we're at it. the same thing goes for muscle
and bone.” The guy nonchalantly stepped into the light
of the dingy street!amp, as if stepping out of the dark
wings and into the spotlight.
‘it’s the same to me either way. If you plan on
running away, now's the time. He slightly curled the
comers of his mouth. “Otherwise, how about we go at it
until we’re hacking up blood?” he asked, laughing with
gay abandon. 1
An unusual moon rainbow arced across the sky
of the deep, still night. In a room in the broken-down
building they used as their sate house and headquarters,
the now legendary members of Bison idled away the
long and tedious hours. 1I
Once upon a time, these ruffians had made
names for themselves, running wild in the slums.
turning the place upside down. Bui for the time being
they’d reformed, no longer baring tooth and claw to
every provocation. Or at least that was how the casual
onlooker now perceived them.
The employment rate was miserable for the kids
who spent morning and night pursuing gang rivalries,
leaving the slums chronically shorthanded for labor.
Setting aside the actual quality of the jobs, putting food
on the table like “regular people” wasn't a problem.
Granted, as slum dwellers they had no idea what
“regular people” expected in terms of living standards.
Even without dreams or desires, laboring
under the weight of impotence and stagnation, human
beings had to eat. Hunger constitutes the foundation in
man’s hierarchy of needs. Nobody in the slums wished
for catered meals and six-course dinners, but nobody
wished to starve and die a dog's death, either.
Food was not distributed equally, but rather
according to hard work, and it was only when (hey hit
their late twenties, when the high spirits of youth had
grown stale, that they came to grips with this painful
reality. Though this reckoning no doubt came to them
faster than they ever expected.
Passing around a bottle of “tripper," a hard,
hallucinatory' stout, Kirie paused and spoke, as if the
thought had suddenly occurred to him, “Did you hear?
There’s a market opening in Mistral."
"A market?” Sid queried, surprise evident in his
eyes. “A Pet Auction, you mean?”
Kirie nodded curtly. “The word is, this time
it's Academy-manufactured pets. They’re positively
jumping up and down with excitement, including the
new money types in Kahn and Regina. Rumor has it the
bid prices will be ten times the usual.”
Where in the world had he heard that? They all
fancied themselves street-wise bastards but Kirie was
always the first one in the know.
“Pedigreed pure bloods, eh?” Guy said to
"Ain’t got nothing to do with us,” Luke shot back.
44 Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
“Not to compare us to those Academy-
manufactured pets or nothing, but given the time and
money, plus a little spit and polish, and we wouldn’t
turn out half bad neither. Aside from a bit of an attitude
problem. Eh, Riki?”
Kirie turned his mismatched gray and blue eyes
on Riki and laughed. As if to express his lack of interest
in the subject. Riki took a swig of stout. This overt
display of attitude made Kirie knit his brows. After all,
being ignored in front of everybody was moie inhaling
than being disagreed with.
Even back when Bison had swatted him aside as
a precocious outsider, they’d never dissed him the way
Riki did, Riki's behavior towards him felt like a hard
slap in the face. 1
Son of a —
Grinding his back teeth. Kirie recalled the
night Guy had unexpectedly brought Riki here to their I
customary hangout. They’d all been too surprised to say
anything for a long second or two, and then, in the next
instance, everybody was repeating his name in warm
and oddly raised voices. I
41 Riki—l” 1
“They said Riki? Seriously ? I
Kirie knew him. There before his very eyes were
the black hair and eyes that suggested actual Academy-
manufactured quality. This was the man who d once J
been called the “Charisma” of the slums. a
Kirie could even now recall the inexpressible, I
almost intoxicating sensation that had overcome him.
and it was all because of that night three days ago. It’d
been burned into his retinas, whether by pure chance or
inevitable late: the man who‘d led Bison was the one
who went toe to toe with the kids who called Jeeks their
leader—the same .leeks wlio’d sel himself up as the
exterminator of Bison—and had subsequently whipped
‘Tronic,” he'd have to call it. No, a godsend.
Seeing this living legend □ second time, this iegend that
he'd never believed he'd meet again, thrilled Kirie to the
core of his being in a manner that was different from the
other members of Bison.
But he hadn't made a big deal about what had
happened that night in front of everybody. So why did
Riki turn a cold shoulder only to him? Was it because,
among the gang members, Kirie’s was the only face
that Riki didn't know? Perhaps the legend wasn’t
comfortable striking up an overly familiar conversation
on theft first meeting.
But even after taking these factors into
consideration, Kirie wasn’t mollified. As a result, he
dug in his heels and withdrew from the chit-chat as well.
He didn't understand it, though. Perhaps Riki had taken
a disliking to him; he'd had that feeling since the first
time they met. Or perhaps somebody had whispered
something in his ear. Nobody had said anything right to
The severity of the look Riki Hashed him had an
edge to it that couldn’t but leave any other impression.
A sarcastic or biting comment would have been more
welcome, because in that case, a comeback would have
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
been possible. But Riki wasn't giving him an opening. j
Far from it. Kirie was being completely snubbed,
a fact he found thoroughly depressing. He narrowed his
eyes in anger. Apparently blind to all of this, Riki made
no attempt to lower his gaze as he stared off into the
distance. Kirie scowled as he considered a cutting retort,
all the more pissed off. .1
Right then, as if waiting for exactly the right
moment, Guy soflly spoke. "What's with you, Kirie 1 ?
You want your own personalized col lar?" j
Kirie lightly clucked his tongue at the lost
opportunity. He took a breath to collect his senses and
answered with a forced laugh. “Yeah, sure. Add in an
owner who can keep me supplied with this Dublin hard
ale and I'll lick the soles of his feet." 1
That comment got under Riki's skin somewhere.
His indifferent expression suddenly turned so cold
that Kirie unconsciously clenched his fists even as he
flinched. For reasons he could not understand, Riki’s
steely gaze made his blood run cold. Feeling the full
brunt of Riki’s displeasure, his pent-up frustrations were
about burst into flames. 1
What s with this motherfucker! ■
Kirie was pinned down by that frosty, silent
gaze, and he simply couldn't find bis voice despite his j
suffocating sense of indignation. All that remained was
the personal contempt for his own awkwardness, and it
was burning a hole in the pit of his stomach. fl
At that point, sitting to his right, Luke spoke
with the whisper of a smile creasing his lips. “Hey, wake
up, you dumb bastard. You’re not seriously thinking
about becoming some half-breed slum pet, are you?”
Nobody laughed. Because it was God’s honest
truth, not something people joked or made snide remarks
about. In an obvious effort to dispel the unpleasant
atmosphere, Norris interrupted in a vexed tone of voice.
"The hell with that. What’s with Jeeks and those little
twerps of his?”
“Yeah, yeah. J got no idea why, but lately
they've been really riding our asses."
"But I heard that just the other day they ran
into a chap who beat the crap out of them.” Calling it
a rumor. Kirie related the information casually while
stealing a glance at Riki.
Riki didn't react in the slightest.
"Well, that’d be a godsend. In any case, we
should take the opportunity to kick some heads in. For
starters, it'd settle things down around here.”
With no indication as to whether he was listening
or not, Riki lowered his eyes and drained the last of the
stout from the bottle. The alcohol touched his mouth
with a particular bitterness that stabbed at his tongue,
yet this time the grating sensation struck Riki in a way
that was different than usual. This lime it was vicious
and heavy and dark, in a way that was hard io describe.
Must be just my imagination.
Riki slowly sw allowed the stout as he turned the
thought over in his mind. When it came to warming his
chest, it was belter to get high on spirits a bit smoother
on the tongue, but this was the best he could expect
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
Between the bouts of gang warfare, he'd stepped
back and pul some guarded distance between himself
and the wild-eyed kids who prowled the Pleasure
Quarters for thrills and profits. But that didn’t mean he'd
abandoned "the cause” and gone over to earning his
daily bread by the sweat of his brow. 1
Every year more young bloods poured into
Area 9, but the slums, running like arteries through the
heart of Ceres, had already hardened, and none ol them
possessed the strength of will to tear open the chest and 1
drain the infection from its vital organs. j
Without a generous sugar daddy there was no
one to scrounge money from. These chaps, who were
hardly able to extract any kind of enjoyment from their
own youth, found that the luxurious, hallucinatory ale
was nothing but a dream.
A dream. Even the stout they were working on
now. Three days earlier. Luke had run across a stock of
supposed '‘class goods" somewhere, but that didn't mean
he'd sampled the merchandise first to ascertain its true
worth. The stout was brewed as an off-label stimulant. It
was moonshine. 1
Downing a slug in one shot instead of working
at it was a risky business. If a chap’s luck was running
against him, it was far from a mere "bad trip”: after a
good deal of thrashing about and writhing in pain, the
end result was death by suffocation. 1
That accounted for stout's bad reputation among
the alkaloid-based intoxicants, and undoubtedly was the
reason that the very worst of the brand should suit the
slums so well.
Still, once a fellow got thoroughly wasted, it
was a trip with no toll booths and no off-ramp. He’d sit
there in a phantasm-filled euphoria, his lips forming the
mere shape of words, the breath escaping his taut lips
sounding like crushed rock underfoot.
The stout shouldered the burdens of slum kids
w ho had no other means of venting their frustrations.
Even speaking truth to power, their souls remained
unquenchcd. And always, there was the problem of
being lightly cast aside, of being summed up in the
simple phrase: “That's just the way the world jacking is”
The stout liberated them, albeit temporarily,
from that existence. No one told them a chap shouldn’t
use off-label pharmaceuticals just because they “might
The conversation having exhausted itself, the
empty silences that followed slowly began to dam up the
spaces between them.
At that point, some bee having buzzed under his
bonnet, Luke roused himself and turned his glazed eyes
on Riki. “What’s with you, man? Sitting there on your
ass, getting shit-faced on this piss. ] mean it. you look
Something seemed to be lurking in Luke’s
muddied gaze as his eyes crawled over Riki's body like
a cat’s tongue ticking its fur.
“Don’t mean to say you've turned into some old
fan telling the same old war stories all day, though.”
It was always like this. There was a rawmess
in the voice and a look in the eyes that was enough to
Ai No Kusahi - The Space Between
scorch his hair. Riki put it down to the stout beginning to
kick in anti paid him no mind.
Heartbeats slowly measured out the time, virility
gradually returning as strength at last flowed back into
the limbs with a strange, undulating rhythm. Silting back
against the sofa in a relaxed manner, Riki stretched his
arms and legs, and took a deep breath. j
He closed his eyes. He could see nothing, hear
nothing. He felt only the faint stirrings of something
akin to slumber. His body and soul became enchanted by
the mesmerizing sensations, and all the more blissfully
beguiled with each breath.
The darkness at the back of his eyes stirred. As a
kaleidoscope of colors leapt into his vision, Riki lost all
interest in everything but the pleasant numbness tilling
And then Guy, glancing over his shoulder at
Riki, seemed to catch in the taint smile playing across
his face a glimpse of those three missing years, and
lowered his gaze.
\ The slums « a monster that devours the soul of
youth and spits out the gristle.
[ Somebody must have said so at one time or
another, for all the residents of Area 9 knew from
personal experience that it was the honest truth. Yet
those who tried to leave the slums were met with a
deep-rooted scorn, and an envy more scathing than an
ordinary' man could imagine.
Rotting on the vine, the aging drifters—for there
was nothing left to them but to grow old—had no dreams
to consume. This was not necessarily good or bad. The
day-to-day reality that was their only inheritance was
worse than eating sand.
Yet they poured slanderous abuse upon those
tiying to destroy that painful reality, a backlash that
mercilessly ate away at the soul. It was the dilemma.
A man could not fly without dreams, but a man
who never flew never knew the fear of falling. Any hope
of progress was abandoned. Although this truth was
hidden from no one, these people would clip their wings
and throw them away, saying that if they did not, they
would surely die.
: The reality forming the “walls" of the slums was
that thick, the darkness that black.
Consequently, those who dared to challenge
those walls, even knowing they would be slapped down.
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
were derisively called “Martians,” after the Roman god
of w ar Drinking themselves into depravity m rages ot I
self-pity those hiding behind these words knew the
shoes of these “Martians” would never fit them.
Riki had once said the same thing over and over, I
like a pet phrase. He expressed his true thoughts only I
to Guy, the pairing partner that was his better halt, jj
Someday /’m going to kiss the slums goodbye. M
Until then, everybody who'd expressed the l
same sentiments and left the slums behind had returned
with fallen spirits and drooping shoulders after barely a
month. Without a touch of fear Riki put conviction into I
his words and looked forward to the future. jl
Someday. For" sure. ■
Four years before. M
Three months had passed since Bison
unexpectedly broke up like a plane disintegrating in
mid-air. Late one night, Riki staggered into Guy’s hole
in the wall. 1
“Hey, you okay?” 1
As soon as he opened the door, Guy cauglu a
f ace fail of alcohol laden breath and had to mm away, j
Even when he drank, Riki wasn't a guzzler, but right
now he smelled to Guy like he’d showered in booze^
Seeing Riki in this state aroused in Guy a high
degree of anxiety. Before even inviting him in Guy
reflexively knit his brows. “Riki, what’s going on? 1
Clearly not giving a damn about
besotted condition. Riki leaned forward, swaying, the
comers of his mouth turning up. “A little present, hi
said, pressing something against Guy’s chest.
Guy had heard the rumors, but when it came to
a same-label knockoff, not to mention the real thing, this
brand of stout sported the astronomical prices that not
even God could afford. He swallowed hard. “Where the
hell did you gel this?” he asked in a hoarse voice.
Riki chuckled with a suppressed a smile. It
could be the real thing, or he was strung out on skid
row home brew. Looking at Riki’s slack lips and sloppy
mouth, Guy couldn’t begin to comprehend what was on
his mind. As if to nip his anxieties in the bud, he spoke
carefully. “You certainly seem in a good mood. You
strike it rich?”
He probed gently. Riki cast himself on the one
good bed like he owned the place and mumbled, "Yeah,
something like that” He lifted his heavy, bleary eyes and
snorted through his nose. “Still, the Roget Renna Vartan
is bloody impressive, too.”
“This some kind of joke?”
! “Huh? i just happened to come into a rare
vintage you wouldn't think of praying for and wanted
lo share the joy. Shit, you’re not saying 1 pinched it, are
With that, Riki twisted his body and laughed, his
voice approaching a screech. Guy was uncertain whether
the loud laughter could he attributed lo the drink, or a
kink of stone-cold sober self-derision, and he couldn't
quell a growing sense of foreboding.
If his memory was not mistaken, this was
probably the first time iti a long time that Riki made a
killing cruising the Midas night. That's what accounted
54 Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between ■
for his sudden change in appearance. fl
Guy plunged his hands into Riki s pockets c tnd H
found them bulging with a prepaid credit cards. "You’ve I
got more than enough, right' ) Let's bug out ot here®
before you roll snake eyes.” JH
Riki had responded with a playful kick to Guys ■
ass. “Lady luck is loving me long and hard tonight At I
a time like this, it's only good manners to love her back I
the same way. You take off, Guy. Myself, I’m up for*
another round.” ,
Riki laughed fearlessly and disappeared into the*
crowds. That was the last Guy had seen of him that day.
At the time, tiuy hadn i been particularlyB
worried. Though edging himself pretty far out on the 1
limb, the unusually jittery Riki still struck him as the last I
person to try pulling some dumb stunt. Guy was sure
he’d head off in high spirits and find some dive to drinH
the night away in. j
But when Guy thought about it now, mol
night had been the start of something something had I
happened out there, but Riki showed not the slightest
inclination of saying what. |
A month later Riki dropped the bombshell:
“Gary, / m quitting Bison." fl
Back in the day, before making itself king ot the
mountain in the slums. Bison had been formed to prcMM
a bunch of newcomers who enjoyed no patronage ad|
had no connections in the colonies from getting eat*
alive by the wily old rogues.
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
The powerful feasted on the weak. They fought. I
therefore they were. That was the painlully transparent I
logic of power in the slums. The strong inherited the I
earth—how could they not? I
Those who prevailed and advanced to the next I
round in the struggle for existence earned the right to |
loudly proclaim their own righteousness, Fawners and I
whiners need not apply. Trust no one. For good, or ill. I
those who couldn't carve out their own place in the I
world would be plucked raw. j I
Best to become strong and avoid getting I
screwed over. That was the rule of the slums. Even if I
weak individually, great power arose from combining I
the many as one. It thoke who individually would be left I
destitute pooled their resources and worked in union, I
they could clean house. Riki had become the catalyst. I
the linchpin that made it happen. 9
“Lying low and playing it safe guarantees I
nothing. 1 ' That had been Riki's ironclad policy since his I
days at the Guardian foster center.
But Riki also said, “That doesn't mean I've I
got the slightest inclination to catch flack for complete H
strangers." Aside from finally deciding to become -out I
of sheer necessity— the tie facto leader of Bison, he did I
not have any particular desire lor the position nor any I
attachment to it.
He simply couldn't tolerate people trying to twist
his arm. people wearing kid gloves that concealed mailed I
fists. Or the cajoling, bothersome buttinskies. Or the I
uniters who bought their salvation on the backs of others. I
The affection Riki’s acolytes had for him burned
with u white hot flame, but with the sole exception of
Guy, Riki's black eyes never blamed with an equal
devotion towards them. In spite of this, Riki's presence
was enchanting, and it excited in them a kind of
And so Guy. and then Sid, and then Luke, and
because of him. Norris, hitched their fortunes to Riki
and formed the pillars shouldering the throne of his
charisma. They had their own desires. They dreamed
their own dreams. And they aspired to dispatch the
opposition and become top dog in the slums as well.
But once Riki abdicated, for whatever reason,
one had the desire to become his successor, and that’s
why Bison disintegrated. As outsiders looked on in
amazement, it faded away into that good night with nary
Jsn t he the one rushing in where angels fear to
rn'iu/? The slums were talking, and the way the envious
rumors were flying about, it was believed lie must’ve
really been in the money. A short while later, just when
everyone was beginning to doubt they'd see Iris face
again, lie suddenly showed up with a crate of expensive
spirits the likes of which the slums had never seen
i While greeting all the commotion with a big
smile, he was not intoxicated in the slightest by the
looks of envy and jealousy lie received. Far from it.
Guy and the others thought they detected something
unlathoinable in Riki’s black eyes, the intensity of a
swollen and insatiable hunger.
Not only Guy and the others, but everybody in
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
the slums wanted to know the source of his riches, 1
“Yo. Riki. You're not eating at the trough of one
of those new money types, are you ? ’ I
“No way. You think there’s anybody who could
put a muzzle on a wild stallion like Riki? j
“So. what’s the real story, then?”
Cross-examining him, tossing around the |
needling sarcasm and barbed jokes, Riki made no
effort to respond other than with vague, noncommittal: 1
They didn't press him any further than this.
Even when they were no longer hanging out together 24/
7, Riki was still the same old Riki, and so provoked no
more than his expected share of antipathy and jealousy
No, that wasn’t it. |
Mis conspicuous jet black hair and obsidian
eyes, along with the vivid aura sealed within his supple
limbs, had become more intense. Riki was free from
the shackles that Bison had become, and people even
thought that he had reclaimed some of the brilliance ol
his true nature, JM
Nobody put these thoughts into words, but they
had come to realize that the disparity between themselves
and Riki had become stark. They half-uneonsciously
kept themselves in check so that all their chickenshi!
envy wouldn't end up warping their outlook on life.
wouldn’t rend in two the chains binding themselves and
Riki together. J
Guy couldn't help but worry. Not as a member ot
Bison but as Riki’s pairing partner, constantly at his side.
“Hey, Riki. Seriously, you don’t want to be
sticking your head out like this.”
“What the hell are you looking at me like that
for. all of a sudden?”
“Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes.
Gimme an answer!”
Guy fretted because he wished to be Riki’s
emotional cornerstone. That’s what he wanted, and
that's how he hoped things would continue to be. But
then where did this strange sense of irritation come
from? Or the illusion that the bonds connecting Riki and
himself were unraveling bit by bit? Or that Riki was not
even aware of his growing unease?
Riki sighed deeply and spoke in a subdued
voice. “You know, Guy, there aren't opportunities just
lying around everywhere. Especially chances for guys
like us to see the light of day.” Me narrowed his black
eyes slightly, eyes steeped with alcohol. “That stout 1
snuck in here, 1 was going to stretch ii out and make it
lasl longer but i got tired of the crappy buzz it got me.”
He quietly spoke his mind about things he'd
been storing up inside him.
“If I'm going to see the same old dreams. I want
io see a damned good show. Just sitting around with my
thumb in my mouth and a wistful look on my face till the
cud of time is a waste. We both know tons of blokes like
that. You know?”
| He knew what he was asking.
| “Guy, 1 hale it here. If I stay like this forever,
l ir: going to rot from the inside out. It’s enough to give
me the fucking willies.”
He knew the weight of reality.
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
He knew everything inside and out.
“I’m going to crawl out of here and see lor
myself," he said aloud, as if to demonstrate the strength
of his unwavering will. I
Guy didn't know what had spurred Riki to i
these extremes. Riki had discovered something about
his place in the world, but Guy never pressed him about
it. perhaps because he was afraid that doing so would
rupture the link that they shared. So he simply gave a
laconic nod. "Yeah, sure— 1
His lips curled slightly as the sharp spines ot
some invisible thorn stuck in his throat, 9
Midas, Area 9. Ceres, These backstreets may
have had a past once, but they possessed no future.
Nothing geographical separated Ceres and
Midas, riven though Ceres and Midas shared the same
earth and die same sky, it so happened that Ceres
“mongrels” didn't share the same identity card held by
the citizens of Midas. And it was that difference alone
that made the Ceres slums and Midas galaxies apart. j
It wasn’t the flocking together of criminals and
drifters that birthed that characteristic heap of refuse in
the slums, i iic lot known as Area d did not exist on an\
map or any registration card ot any resident ot Midas,
and that’s the way it had been, for as long as anyone
could remember. J
What was uncharted bred discord that was out
of sight, but not out of mind. Ceres served as a constant
reminder to the citizens of Midas, throbbing away in the
comers of their eyes, disciplining their actions like a
threat of the branding iron.
Bound in both body and spirit, the lives
of the residents of the Pleasure Quarters were far
from agreeable. Shackled hy inheritance to the class
system known as "Zein," they were not free to choose
occupations in disregard to class differences. They were
also not free to love whom they chose to love.
Nevertheless, rather than causing trouble or
bucking the establishment and losing their II) cards,
they all knew that the far better course was to follow the
rules and keep their mouths shut. The despised trash of
Ceres were right there in front of them, scraping by in
the slums, too low to the ground to reach up and grasp
their own bootstraps, let alone pull themselves up by
The existence of the lower depths perpetually
hovering at the peripheries of their vision served as a
teady confirmation of their own feelings of superiority
To ihe citizens of Midas, their greatest
humiliation was not the invasive restrictions on their
speech and conduct, nor was their indignation directed
towards any flagrant abuse of their human rights. It
was the thought of being stripped bare and dumped in
i To live in Ceres -was to no huger be a human
The fact was imprinted on the basal ganglia of
(heir brains and permeated every cell of their bodies. It
was the warning of Midas itself laid bare, so that they
would not make the same mistake twice.
62 As No Kusabi - The Space Between !■
A revolt had once broken out in Midas that I
threatened to overturn the established order. The chains I
of control and serv ility imposed by the digital overlord I
were severed. The revolutionaries seeking to bring about |
a new order based on the pursuit of liberty and human I
dignity occupied Area 9 with the goal ol achieving I
“This is not a revolution but a reformation," I
they declared. "The era when men serve and submit to I
machines is over." I
But when, from where, and how-' they would I
provision themselves with the capital and materials II
necessarily for the venture, along with the data and intel I
necessary to challenge Midas, no, lanagura, directly? I
In Area 9 they only had access to those human and I
material resources belonging to a people accustomed to 1
a besieged existence.
The revolutionaries believed that nobody would I
be compelled. There would be no distinctions between I
high and low. The expectation was that everyone would I
be treated equally as individuals. Ceres was going to ■
become that kind of utopia. II
"Cast off your shackles! Demand true I
freedom!” was the battle cry they raised. Promising a I
rebirth of human rights and budging not an inch in their I
convictions, their power and passion w'ere astounding. I
Like a raging bonfire, the sparks flying up I
from Area 9 touched off conflagrations in other areas. I
The long-repressed, smoldering emotions burst into I
flames. The grudges and resentments stored up until I
this moment were expressed with w'ide-ranging acts I
of sabotage. Every nook and cranny seethed with open
criticism of the “system.”
From the outset Midas government officials
downplayed the severity of the crises. ’’They won’t last
ten days." But eventually they fell victim to the effects
of the revolution as customer traffic dried up, and they
were at last forced to come to terms with the seriousness
of the situation.
Perhaps they were dimly aware of the flickering
shadows of Commonwealth allies lurking behind
the ringleaders who had dared bare their teeth to the
’’system.” Even though their hearts were roiling in a
tempest ot indignation, at least on the surface they did
not attempt to force the issue.
The end result was that instead of countering
through brute-force and eradicating Area 9, Midas
simply announced that their residential records would be
deleted, i hat day the echoing cries of joy reverberated
through Ceres. Mctory! They had done it!
It was almost a letdown that the announcement
from Midas was so magnanimous, and some did
exchange doubtful looks. But such doubts were lost
in the cries of victory, the back-slapping and drunken
exuberance. Without a single sacrifice—without a single
loss of life—they had won their rights, their freedom,
and their independence. That was something they could
be proud of.
However, in the end they were left to wonder:
If 'hat did we ready win? And: Why vmv Midas so quick
to recognize the independence of Ceres ?
t The excitement of victory soon abated, and the
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
revolutionaries counted the days and months and began
to think things through. They had escaped the rule of
Midas but now came face to face with the demands of
their own existence. The harshness ot a reality that up
until now was not even a figment in their imagination
began to sink in.
one who comes here wifi he rejected That
was their article of faith*
together with their oppressed and downtrodden
compatriots, together with like-minded people, they
would build the future together. Yes, they were that
naive. The Commonwealth’s surreptitious assistance
had been necessary for their independence, and perhaps
they had not completely realized what it meant to stand
without it. 'il
Of course they were grateful tor the treely-
offered help of their Commonwealth supporters
in raising the banner of human rights. But it never
occurred to them that their very purpose, of breaking
the stranglehold of Tanagura, the “metallic city” stained
by the corrupting poison of Midas, was being subverted
by the Commonwealth's flattering actions and agitating
words. . \
As 0 result, before they coulti even establish tticir
"ideal system,” they were overrun by those bewitched
with the idea of Ceres being "free. ' The vast majority
of them arrived with no firm convictions backing their
belief. Just the hope that by going to Ceres “something’
would change, that "something” would happen.
if one wanted to lead, one had to understand
how profoundly young ihey were. Ignorant. Running off
with a picture of perfection held in their heads, they were
blind to the cold, hard reality at their feet. Their fatal
flaw was the lack of a leader who could make decision
firmly, without second thoughts, without getting lost in
The first reality released upon Ceres was chaos.
Next came: “That’s not what you promised!”
And: “Whaf s in it for me?”
And: "I’m not doing a shitty job like that 1 !”
And so the individual discontent and grumbling
continued. Eventually, impatience with things not being
as imagined was replaced by irritation with things not
turning out as they expected.
“Unshackled freedom” did not mean doing
whatever a person felt like without outside interference.
To take up the reins of freedom, it was necessary to
respect the rule of law and to cooperate. Otherwise, a
person could cry “freedom" until lie was blue in the face
and his ideals would remain idle visions.
* The independence of an unpredictable mob
rule was independence without meaning. For hard-
won freedom to take root, time and patience were
necessary. They were a simple bunch and should have
lea ned the most important of these lessons through
their experiences, If they had, circumstances may have
changed for the better.
But while the so-called “professional” activists
from the Commonwealth were supporting the cause
of freedom, in Ceres, where its tempests were stilling
and fevers rapidly abating, they still remained strangers
and foreigners to each other. They had been given
66 At No Kusabi - The Spate Between
independence from Midas, but carrying out their original
plan met with a number of roadblocks, leaving C eres ma
state of deep distress. , j
Nevertheless, as bad as things got there, their
thoughts were no doubt soothed by the tact that they at
least had a place to go home to. I
Midas began chipping away at such loftiness
and the people of Ceres began to learn the true cost
of freedom. Midas raised no objections to those who
wished to resettle in Ceres, and now Midas refused t eir
repatriation on the grounds that their residency records
had been destroyed and no longer existed.
The door was not closed completely on them,
though there was always the threat that they would
attempt to tear the system down a second time. For those
who wished it, Midas made no bones of employing such
brainwashing techniques as “memory adjustment an®
the like. . , . .
The main point was to save face vis-a-vis tne
Commonwealth as the satellite city of Tanagura. Midas
did not spare the rod or spare the child. Area w®
ringed with sensors and isolated, such that not even a ia
could cross over undetected from Ceres.
These measures served as additional warnings
to the citizens of Midas.
The dreams of the revolution broken, the
shoulders of the revolutionaries sagged and their hearts
Brew heavv. There was no way around, over, or througli
dri. wall of massive rejection. They wasted away in
Ceres, dragging their feel, staggering under the weigh
of regret and despair. a
Right under their noses was Midas, clad in its
gaudy neon robes day and night. The harlot teased at
their hearts hut would never invite them back inside the
Eventually, the tides of lethargy eroded the
remnants ol the collective soul like a terminal disease
worming its way through the marrow of Ceres brick by
i 'i iek. Even when the eras changed and the sensor fences
were removed, it showed no signs of stopping. Over Ihe
years, ihe sickness had burrowed into the degenerating
Riki set off fully aware of the past, but with his
eyes set firmly on the future. When he'd left Guy he’d
made a vow. “’Only a loser slops to look back.”
But then one night, three years to the day since
Riki left the slums (or rather, vanished from Guy’s
presence), he suddenly returned. Guy was caught
totally off guard, and could only stand there, eyes wide,
stammering, unable to pul two words together.
’’Well, you seem to be doing well.”
Riki flashed his familiar grin, He’d put on a few
inches, matured enough to look almost like a completely
different person. His once raw intensity was remarkably
subdued and his slender limbs were smart and trim. But
it was his eyes that Guy was struck by. which were sober
to the point of being cold.
■ Riki ... it’s really you?” Guy asked, despite
himself He had to know for certain.
His former mates were energized in ways both
Stood, and had about Riki s return to the slums, fo one
68 Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
degree or another, everyone wanted a * e
vacuum of those three missing years Needless to- ,
i, wasn't long before the anenttoo of all the eyes m the
stam s Srd.e m “Chansma” of <ta
slums had returned a beaten dog. All mam e
was spoken behind his back. j
"‘Serves him right! „ j
‘Didn't return with honor, that s lor sur •
"A bloody shame, him living in disgrace hke hat.
They all pointed fingers and lathed ^
B t,^ Z r unat arable flower who'd
^ntm^d “to a stng.e partner. Even after falling
from grace, this Rower that bloomed in the swamp o
slums was still a lotus. . u tn tw* j
. :iln picSng * np trad lovi,,
it, they would rather
numbers had become slaves to that kina v
pteaSUre And ye. Rtki held his tongue and didn't mJ
back, despite how much derision he was showerel vnt
No matter how blatantly he was provoked. Li I
off a docltshaek rf — rate
"tan slinking hack ra»
slums with his broken dreams had at least dragget a
the painful spasms of self-contempt, and on top of that,
the dark clouds of madness gathering in the lower depths
of despair. Common practice was to drown themselves
in drugs and alcohol, seal themselves within the shell
of the self and flee the visions of the past by briefly
escaping into that waking dream.
But Riki had changed. Gone was the white-hot
intensity that once scorched whatever it touched. Far
from it. Now. his eyes only seemed to look down at
the rest of them. And there was the manner in which he
drained his glass, as if perpetually lost in his thoughts.
I here was something about that relaxed quietude.
There was no way for Guy to discern the
head of the tight-lipped Riki. Yet to the commonplace
assertion that “It's all for the best." Riki’s transfiguration
had brought about so many profound and radical
changes that he could only refiexivdy nod his head in
Midas, Area 3, Mistral Park was a large
convention center complex lined with exhibition
pavilions of various shapes and sizes.
Beginning with “Casino Row," Lhassa’s main
attraction, and continuing onto its “entertainment
establishments,” visitors then found on the flanks of the
Pleasure Quarters what might be called (with a somewhat
different interpretation) the true face of Midas.
Auction day approached. Midas was caught
up in a fever quickly exceeding its normal hustle and
bustle. The animated voices reached even into the oval
plaza, which was otherwise subdued during the daylight
As Kirie promised, rumors of the Auction
flowed fast and thick, down to the pubs and dives of
‘res that could not have less to do with it. Perhaps
this was because Academy-manufactured products were
again making their debut after a five-year absence.
Riki and his mates were hanging out at Hernia's
“What do you say? ( ’mon, let's go,” implored
Kirie, climbing into Sid’s lap. “Anyway, watching is free.
Ifs nice to stand on the sidelines now and then really cut
loose for a change, don't you think? And if we’re in luck,
we might earn ourselves some beer money.”
Sid must have found getting singled out by Kirie •
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
not altogether disagreeable, because he was getting
into the mood about the time Kirie started tugging on j
his earlobes, He looked to Riki. as if asking for the
permission of their former leader. “Yo, Riki. What about
Showing little interest in the Auction or in going
anywhere, period, Riki replied curtly. “1 fyou want to go.
then go.” jfl
Sid reacted with a small shrug. Kirie furrowed j
his brows, a sullen look on his face. “What’s up with
you? It’s like people say, you spend all day sucking i
lemons. At any rate, what else you got to do with your
free time?” Kirie lit into them, berating the timidity of
the gang members who up to now had always given
Riki’s preferences first priority. “You actually got some
reason for not wanting to go?" ■
When Riki turned toward his attacker, Kirie
added, tightening his lips and narrowing his eyes,
“Maybe there’s somebody there you're not so eager to j
“Whatever," Riki said, as if the whole thing had j
become too mindlessly bothersome to care about. I
“Then it’s settled. Not a bad idea io hit the town
together now and then,” Kirie said sardonically, flashing
a complacent smile. a
“1 don't care for this asshole." Riki spat with
a sideways glance, too low to be overheard. Was it
because, not even seventeen, Kirie's strangely affected,
know-it-all attitude stuck in his craw? Or perhaps it was j
being treated so presumptuously by a kid three years his
junior? No, that wasn't it either.
What Riki couldn't stand about him was not the
way Kirie fixed him with those oddly mismatched eyes
ofhjs, but rather that behind those eyes lingered a carbon
copy of himself from three years before.
Kirie didn’t know that he was a frog stuck at the
bottom oi a well. He didn't even comprehend the nature
of this dumping ground in which he vented his excessive
passions. He grasped only the illusions crawling out of
die bottom of a bottle of stout as he gasped for air.
At first none of this had occurred to Riki.
who took little note of Kirie aside from his curiously
mismatched eyes, but at some point he started seeing a
shadow of his own immature self back when he was a
kid. When he was Kirie's age he'd surely flaunted the
same kind of attitude, Take himself back five years and
there’d be no denying it
Once he d realized this, the memories sprang
up out of the past, entwining themselves around him,
condensing those three blank years in one fell swoop.
It was unbearable, seeing this reflection of his former
self that had no logical reason to exist. Unbelievable. To
tlvnk I once stood in his settne shoes. They were strong
feelings that made him unwittingly grit his back teeth
and choke down the bitter bile.
He d returned to his own haunts because
there he could take a deep breath and relax without
everybody’s eyes on him. He could slake his constricted,
aching throat. Stretch his stiff limbs. Do what he wanted,
when he wanted. Savor his freedom.
It was strange. Around Ihe time he announced he
was leaving Bison, the daily dullness of life lacked any
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
impetus to change, and it made him want to throw up.
But now it was unbearably dear to him.
Despite the abandoned thing that now sneered
at the weaknesses he wished to heal, despite the
humiliation of being exposed as a loser, Riki now had a
more persistent and demanding hunger. Yet nothing had
changed. With his frazzled pride, his ripened body now
rotting on the vine, it’d be a long time before the senses
of this dull and tarnished Varja returned in full.
Still, the past he'd never expected to leave
behind him gradually seemed to be fading away as he
submerged himselt in the fevered swamp of his iotm^r
crib, surrounded by all its brutality. 1
But considering the changes he'd gone through,
why did his old mates strike him as so immutable? Riki
had the feeling he was letting his pride and arrogance
show and had come to regret it lar too late.
Only Kirie’s words left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Chewing them up and forcing them down inflamed old
wounds. Originally he’d hardly been the type to watch
and wait, but if nothing else, those three years had taught
him patience. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that
his pride and stubbornness had been yanked out by istt
roots, and humility crammed down his throat. j
The siander and scorn of the slums were
peanuts in comparison. Nowadays, casting oft the odd
humiliation was nothing. These thoughts had in no small
way prompted Riki to return to his old haunts.
And yet Kirie's presence alone struck the
nerve that brought the burning past back to life. All the
memories of his naive and arrogant youth, o! playing
the consummate delinquent, were vividly resurrected
before his very eyes. His heart could know no peace.
His eyes flashed with bitter anger and the mask of cool
indifference was prone to slip.
Nine-thirty in the morning, Midas standard
time, the day of the Auction, As if the excitement had
spilled over from the night before, the Pleasure Quarters
were bustling with people. The weather was wonderful.
Blue skies and not a cloud in the sky weather perfectly
appropriate fora carnival.
And among them, Kirie nipped at Riki's heels in
a high state of agitation. “Hey, quit dragging your feet.
Let's move it along!”
Guy observed Kirie as he walked with Riki
toward Mistral Park. “Kirie’s sure full of himself.”
' "That's because he’s a kid.”
L “A kid, huh.”
“What's that clever smile supposed to mean?”
“Oh, nothing. Just something I remembered ”
k “What’s that?”
“There was also a crop of Academy-
manufactured pets that year we came to the Colony,
and the place was really cooking. You were the one
whooping it up and gee-whizzing about this, that, and
the other thing,"
[ Riki said nothing in return.
| “That’s who Kirie reminds me of. The two of
you are peas in a pod.”
"Don t put me in the same category as that little
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
“Ah, 1 see. You’re so much more grown up.
Speaking of which, you were so worried that / d get lost j
tha t you held my hand and wouldn’t let go the whole 1
time. Hey, ow/” ,1
Shut up and keep walking.” 1
"What re you hitting me tor? All l m doing t&fl
reminiscing about the good old days ^ |
“Enough's enough. So put a sock in it. ■
“Fine, fine." 1
The opening was still a while oft and the road*
leading to the Auction grounds was everywhere jammed
with the waves of people, The crowd was enough to I
exhaust Riki’s patience. I
With more woVider than sarcasm in his voice,
Kirie looked on with wide eyes. "Look all these people!
It’s a goddamned people parade! How about we get
things started already! It's hot as a bathhouse around
Luke snorted with derision, “What it comes
down to is, they're just a bunch ot homy, fucked up.
nouveau riche types. Aside irovn the lact that we fuck
ourselves up on stout instead, there's no big difference
between us and them." 1
“It's interesting, just the same. All these differ®
kinds of people. You don't get to feast your eyes upon
Academy-manufactured pets very often. 1 wonder what
they’re thinking, everybody flocking up to the display
windows like that.”
He wasn’t asking this question of anyone in
particular, But Kirie’s gaze half-unconsciously sought out
Riki’s black eyes as he returned from the bustling throngs.
Ai No Kusabi ■ The Space Between
“So, Riki, what do you think?” m
Riki would have normally turned indifferently
and looked the other way, but this time, strangely
enough, lie fixed his gaze on Kirie's mismatched pair of
“At first, what everybody thinks: If l had to do
this every day— That sort of thing. Then 1 take a look
at the opening bids and my eyes bug out, A cold slap to
the face. I here’re blokes here with the all the time and
money in the world and blokes here with nothing. When
all is said and done, it doesn’t matter if you can't accept
the distance between yourself and the privileged classes.
You're forced to deal with it and that’s what sticks in
your craw.” *
“Well, what do you know. Once in a while, the
strong, silent type opens his mouth and has something
radical to say." Kirie looked at Riki with an almost
startled expression and smiled a curious smile.
Guy and the others cast sideways glances at
Kirie and speculated among themselves, each according
to his own fancy,
“Hey, hey, there they go again."
“Whenever they meet, this is how they end up.
So why don’t they get along?” Wt
“Idiot. I he only radical thing here is that mouth
But they felt differently in their hearts: Kirie
never learns. He's about a century> too young to go
mouthing off to Riki.
Riki let out a heavy sigh. “It's hardly that big of
a deal, is it?"
“What? Being a few years older makes you a
wise old fart?”
“Yeah, because you're always spouting off like
the wise-ass, wet-behind-the-ears kid you are.”
“I luh. Give you three years and you're supposed
to he some highfalutin man among men? When you’ve
gone from the undisputed head of Bison to some piss-
normal ordinary bloke? It’s a real letdown. I'm telling
you. Somebody must have got the jump on you. At least
that's what it looks like to me.”
Before he could say another word, Norris
smacked Kirie up the side of his head.
“What’s that for?”
“That’s for being an idiot. Give us all a fucking
“What's wrong about telling things as they are,
Answering with the same swagger in his voice
Riki said, “Yeah, 1 suppose you’ve been able to spout
shit like that ever since you've been able to pull up your
own pants. Kirie. But once the nice little security blanket
you got here gets ripped away, it's gonna come back and
bite you in the ass.”
It was spoken dryly, but with a hard edge that
nibbed Kirie raw. What Riki was really saying grated
mockingly in his ears. You got an awful big mouth for
some rum kid picking at Bison s table scraps.
He casually glanced at Sid and Norris and saw' the
bitter, knowing smiles playing across their faces. What was
plainly tugging at Luke’s lips need not be said. And Guy,
y ho usually did something to intercede, only faintly sighed.
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
What—what s this? Kirie thought, in a I
spontaneous flash of anger. Unexpectedly seized by the I
illusion of losing his place in the world, his head ached I
down to the core. II
“Just because I won't sell myself short!" A burst I
of anger burning with a sense of loss. II
“In that case, shut your noisy mouth. It's hurling I
my ears,” Riki said to his face, bluntly turning aside I
Kirie’s inflamed and agitated gaze. II
Only the space between them kept Riki and I
Kirie from locking horns. Here was heat of a completely I
different kind, a silence like the clashing ot unblended I
Kirie fixed Rikt with his gaze and didn't move a I
muscle. Or, to be more precise, ii might be better to say I
that the shock of facing Riki’s usually distracted black I
eyes head on for the first time left him unable to even I
blink, Cold sweat slowly soaked his back. His throat
grew helplessly parched under the weight of feeling I
indescribably oppressed. II
“C'mon, Riki, Let's go." Spreading oil on the I
waters, Guy draped his arm around Riki's shoulders. I
That touch alone, and the icy gleam vanished from I
Finally released from Riki's spell, a great I
feeling of relief welled up in Kirie s chest. Without 1
really thinking about it, he moistened his lips with his I
tongue over and over. II
“Hey, snap out of it. We’re going.”
All the joints in his body were still so unnaturally I
stiff that when Sid gave him a sharp jab in the back lie I
“Fuck all, but it's a couple million years too soon
lor an amateur like you to go picking fights with Riki.”
“Well, yeah. But at least he didn't wet himself.”
i )idn't, did he? Only because they never locked
“You owe Guy a thank-you note.”
And so they gave him a no-holds dressing down.
Kirie's competitive instincts flared up again, “What do I
have to be thankful to Guy for?” Kirie's quick recovery
“If you got to ask, then that's because you’re
still a kid."
They knocked him around once again. Kirie was
getting downright pissed. Quiz coiling me a kid! Three
years between us don t make you a hunch of world-
In every respect, the term “early bloomer”
applied to Bison. All it took was for the gang’s leader to
throw in tine towel and the rest of them opted for early
retirement. Or rather it could be said that, to the extent
that they showed no regrets, they had completely burned
Why? Why were they still hanging together?
With their reason for existence, their foundation, having
“Shit!" Kirie spat out under his breath, glaring
at the backs of Guy and Riki, walking side by side head
of him. Just you fucking wait and see! Give me a chance
and / 7/—
Good fortune was not going to fall into his lap
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
if he was just sitting around on his hands, and he knew
from living in the slums that the opportunity wasn'l
going to present itself either. He’d heard rumors that
Riki had left Bison to take a shot at something he’d
happened into. At the time Riki was fifteen or sixteen.
Whatever Riki could do, Kirie was sure he could do as
Nevertheless, Kirie furrowed his brows. He
didn't really understand the connection between Riki
and Guy. Theirs was obviously no ordinary relationship
It was common knowledge that they'd been physically
involved since they'd been at Guardian, and that even
while they were there, Riki's attachment to Guy had
never been something to be taktyi lightly, I
That’s why when Kirie first got to know
Guy—thanks to a good word from Sid—and found the
lieutenant of the legendary Bison to be a normal, easy¬
going guy, he felt as if someone was pulling his leg,
What the hell is this? He's just an ordinary bloke! Don't
look like no superman to me! AH l have to do is knock
this number two off his perch and— m
The gap between rumor and reality proved
infuriating for Kirie, but when Riki returned to the
slums, Kirie learned for the first time why Guy was his
lieutenant. Even though it wasn’t spelled out in so many
words, the two of them clearly communicated on a deep
level. Like it or not, he had to deal with the reality of
the true meaning of the term "pairing partner,” and the
manifestation of feelings of jealousy that were difficult
to express. a
In Area 9, children up to the age of twelve were
all reared together by the child care administrators of
the Guardian foster center. The reason given was that
die mortality rate of children in violent, dysfunctional
en\ ironment of the slums was disproportionately high.
That was part of it, but at the root of the problem
was the extremely low- birth rale of girls compared to
that of boys. This may have been due to a particular
property of the planet known as Amoy, along with any
number of other unknown factors.
Only in Midas—in Ceres—were there no
population or eugenic controls in place. "Natural sex
election” had been declared a "basic right,” as if to set
in stone the rallying cries of human dignity raised at the
lime of its independence,
jf Consequently, the small number of girls were
given preferential treatment over the boys, and those
with any inclination to bear children could do so in an
isolated and far more agreeable environment. Unlike the
boys who were forced to be "independent” of Guardian
it the age of thirteen, to the extent that they were capable
of giving birth, girls were under no obligation to live in
the infested slum colonies.
^ Naturally, as things turned out, approximately
ninety-nine percent of the residents of the slums—even
lI limited 1o the in utero children alone were males, the
only sex capable of being bom.
Accordingly, “families” in the form of
“blood relationships” were nonexistent among the
sime-sex relationships that formed the foundation
of life in the slums. And neither was ihere any
concept of official or ceremonial "marriage.”
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
Area 9—Ceres—had produced that kind of
distorted and closed society. All the more reason that the
citizens of Midas should live willingly like house pets
within (he giant cage that was the Pleasure Quarters,
while at the same time scorning Ceres as "the slums.”
But the human animal is a social one. and
is driven to seek out a healing presence to quench
the loneliness of life. Hence the "pairing partner, an
inseparable “significant other'* that existed beyond love
and affection, beyond contracts or obligations, and was
untroubled by the presence of no-strings-attached ' sex
friends.'’ Even so. when choosing for “life," a compatible
and sexual ly-available partner was preferred. J
Who is the right one jbr me—? i
There were not a few for whom such
considerations could never surmount the high hurdle of
their own idealism. M
When Kirie decided to run with Bison at Sid's
invitation, one big reason was that, although Bison was
now more legend than reality, the name commanded
considerable respect in the slums simply as a status
symbol. In fact, they could call on so many favors
that they could get by on the daily freebies alone if the
inclination so struck them.
Because of this, though Kirie and Bison had
crossed paths many times, not once had he been shaken
down for his “lunch money." On these occasions, Guy
had come across as a straight shooter. W hen Kirie
reached out to them, he was turned down flat and sem
away with a slap on the wrists. M H
Among the members, he was the only one Kirie
couldn’t win over, and that grated on his pride. “What’s
the matter? Can't get it up. eh?” Trying somehow to get
Guy’s goat. Kirie even challenged his manhood.
Guy answered in turn, cutting him to the core.
"Nice try. But 1 don’t go for little kids just out of their
Kirie had never forgotten that humiliation. “Son
of a hitch. He thinks the whole fucking world revolves
“And who the hell do you think he is? He's
Riki’s life partner. The guy you’re hitiing on could have
iih pick of the litter. He’s the one who's gonna do the
choosing. Not you.”
I “Hey, don’t take it so hard. Compared to Riki
we’re all kids."
I It probably all started then. In the true sense of
tile term he became of aware of “Riki" as an extension
of “Bison.” Two years had passed since. Kirie was still
treated as the runt of the pack, and he had never turned
down the heat on the slow boil of emotions in his heart.
On the other hand, Riki considered Kirie a
fucking pain in the neck. The bile welling up in his gut
could not be so easily quelled. This wasn't the first time
Ktrie’s provocative attitude had gotten to him, and il
wasn’t exactly calming being jammed together with all
these crowds either.
He was so overcome with disgust that he almost
wanted to hurl. He walked along as if swept up in the
human tide, and eventually the nausea in the pit of
his stomach became a ball of scorching nettles. As he
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
approached the “sampling'" booths situated in the center
of the plaza, his gut all but clenched up. ’
Within the walls of people were a collection
of “pets” that constituted the “main attractions" of the
auction. These were the “display items” put on show
for the general public. During ihe auction itself, a great
variety of pets would go on sale in each and ever)
auction hall. 1
Inside resplendency furnished rooms that
had been further partitioned into cubicles for each
manufacturing center, the pets were hardly timorous
as they awaited their turn. These were each center s
debut “performers.” The variety of sexes, skin, hair
and eye color notwithstanding, the supple symmetry
of Iheir limbs and their graceful physiognomies did not
disappoint. All their relative merits matched up across
the board. I
The latest hot-selling line was a crossbred,
humanoid lemur—tail included. Size and genetic mix
were variegated, with each boasting its own unique and
individualized coloring. Among them, “Exile” from the
Galott company line stood out from the crowd with Iter
refined appearance and the excellent pell of her tail.
Along with Exile, all the Galott ornamental
lemurs were neutered females. Luxia’s “Melude” took a
decidedly inferior position to the Galott line, but because
they could be paired off and bred to produce numerically
superior offspring, almost overnight a frenzied breeding
fad had broken out among the region's newly moneyed
and the Commonwealth’s privileged classes. '
The real eye-catchers among the potpourri
of booths, the stars of the show, were the Academy-
Translucent golden hair. Finely-textured white
skin. Moist red lips. Delicate and youthful features
that made sexual identity difficult to discern, but
contradictor! ly, at the same time cast off a strange and
alluring charm that sent a chill up the spine.
Of course the listed opening prices were
ten times the average, putting them in a completely
different league. Once the auction started the bids would
undoubtedly exceed that several limes over. For those
who pul their hearts and souls into “refined works of art"
and spared neither time nor money, Ihey certainly had
reason to think so.
Long-renowned masterpieces known as “pure
blood breeds” were sold in government-sanctioned pet
shops in the central metropolis of Tanagura under the
official brand of the Academy Science Center.
These were the prized end-products of working
unhindered at the bleeding edge of biotechnology.
Moreover, not mere human replicas, but only those
“■original" creations that had been perfected down to the
blood, down to the genes, were officially recognized.
The sheer beauty of the Academy pels justified such
This pride meant that Academy-manufactured
pets alone were allowed to coolly snub the looks of
jealousy and envy streaming through the glass. Each
unique certification of pedigree symbolized their
unwavering pride and self-confidence.
Naturally, as “pets,” whatever degree of “added
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
value" they possessed in no way entailed considerations
of their dignity as a "human beings."
Once a year, the spectacular exhibition that
was the Midas Pet Auction pulled back the curtain on
fanagura's up and coming industries. However, it was
a grim fact that its reputation in the outside world had
been extremely poor a mere fifty years before. d
"An old-school slave trade," it was called. "A
showcase for human rights violations.”
The whirlwind of criticism blowing in from
the Commonwealth capital was scathing and endless.
Not only ihe auction but the existence of Midas itself, a
symbol of all that was hedonistic and dissolute, set their
nerves on edge. *
A citadel of pleasure without night or day.
beyond race and sex and morality—if that was the face
Midas showed to the world, then the conspiratorial face
of machinulions and money was the ugly, sad reality il
revealed in the shadows. s
It was Tanagura with that nest of injustice tucked
into its back pocket. The Commonwealth's collective
countenance was already twitching in abhorrence, and
this only gnawed at its wounded self-respect. $
Independent city-states have often established
federations to maintain and preserve the mutual quid
pro quo of economic and political relationships. But
claiming autonomy does not make one independent.
Few such cities are truly independent in every respect,
Rather, a handful of large municipalities are absorbed
into a greater "umbrella city" undet the rubric of a
“commonwealth,” which are in truth little more than
subordinate autonomous regions functioning largely as
Among them, regardless of the governing
commonwealth, regardless the presence or lack of
outside interference, and yielding to no one, was
Amoy was the twelfth planet in the Garan star
system. A small, outlying planet rarely visited even
by criminals fleeing tire law. It lacked any outstanding
resources or veins ot precious ores and was originally
inhabited by no sentient living creatures. Even the
Commonwealth inspections conducted routinely every
few years had halted and had not been resumed.
For a long span of time this impoverished
star system had not seen any Commonwealth-directed
colonization or immigration. Then at the beginning of
one year, a ship from the Abis Think Tank made planet-
Determined to think "out of the box,” and
with the goal of creating a prototypical metropolis
unconstrained by political pressures or religious taboos,
they set about constructing Tanagura. A large number
of scientists were brought to Tanagura with the aim of
furthering human intelligence and prosperity, eventually
giving birth to the supercomputer called Jupiter.
Every scrap of available information and huge
amounts of data were made available to the memory'
banks of the artificial intelligence, not with the intent of
adding layer upon layer of "book learning,” but rather to
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
endow it with an advanced sense of the self. -j
One day it suddenly awakened to the truth of its
own existential reality. Its so-called human “creators"
could only regard what ensued as the crazed behavior of
a lunatic. Declared the computer; m
“Only those in to exercise power should wield rr."
This was how it answered the unheard of
“offense” that a computer should be forced to kowtow
to human beings. As a result, the hegemony of power
was taken from the people of Tanagura and vested in the
central cortex of the city that was Jupiter. «
The once impoverished planet of Amoy looked
up at an immutable, lavender blue sky. shot through with
starlight. * ( 1
By the time the cities of the Commonwealth
took notice of this new reality and erupted in a panic.
Tanagura had already transfigured this grotesque
metropolis and tamed its human inhabitants. It quietly
grew more and more sure of itsell as it ignored its noisy
surroundings, and went about its work precisely and
promptly, with an almost cold aloofness,
The “metallic city” the epitome of functional
beauty and cool rationality, proved itsel fan organizational
masterpiece, a showcase of efficiency and cleanliness.
The coldly serene visage it offered was one untouched
by the ordinary grime of human existence and warmth.
With calm, unflagging patience, cameras peered
from every nook and cranny, extending Jupiter’s “sell
to the furthest reaches of its networked nervous system.
Having exceeded the knowledge of its creators
and sown fear far and wide, what would it grasp lor
next? Might it become the Almighty God its own name
suggested, served by newly energized ranks of androids
and a brain trust of its own choosing and education?
So Tanagura attempted to bring to pass even
greater prosperity by repudiating the shackles of
flesh and blood that defined the boundaries of human
existence and rejecting the limits of human mortality.
Quite simply, none other but this deformed
conclusion could have ever been bom out of the wild
delusions of Jupiter's ego. Herein was a reality, a
glimpse of an eventual future in which human beings,
who were bound by the irrevocable limits of death,
would be brought forth to sen e immortal machines.
As was to be expected, the Commonwealth
city-states made their displeasure clear and raised their
voices high in bitter criticism. In every era the strong
have grown I at feasting on the weak; there was no need
to dive into the history books for examples. This was
the same law of nature the Commonwealth regents
themselves ruthlessly practiced.
1 he rules of this law dictated that one day they
nught find themselves in the same position as the vassal
cities now prostrated at their feet. There but for the grace
of God went themselves.
t Day after day, Tanagura further solidified
its position without taboos or constraints, driven
by advances in biotechnology and electronics that
foreshadowed the coming era.
The Commonwealth officials sensed the threat
with an almost unfathomable revulsion, but they could
not deny that they were dependent on what was now
At No Kusabi - The Space Between
available to them. With this in mind, the Commonwealth
began to make careful note of their true feelings on the
And before anyone knew it, the pointed, public
criticisms and the voices calling for abolishment of the
detestable Pet Auctions began to diminish. In a mere
fifty years, their personal morals and sensibilities went
to rack and ruin, as if plunging oil a cliff. dfl
Foolish fads ran rampant, people flocking
together like squawking birds of a feather, showing up
in Midas to paint their names in lights. It became the
new barometer of political and financial power.
The greatest thrill and the biggest turn -on is
the power over life and dehth. Such declarations were
bandied about as a matter of course as they swaggered
tin rough the Pleasure Quarters and swarmed to the Pet
Auctions with money to bum.
That in time good and evil should become
accommodated to each other is perhaps only human
nature. Take things far enough and evil becomes good
Against the backdrop of such a reality, human character
was no doubt likely to come up short as the wheels of
reason spun off their bearings. fl
Perhaps because the S-class auction showing
the Academy-manufactured pets—the odds-on favorites
in any competition—opened at three o’clock, the Hood
of people pouring towards Mistral Park had not abated
An enthused din engulfed the pavilions and
spilled into the plaza, where the warm wind of hum: n
breath seemed to stick to the skin. The unpleasantness
made Riki cluck his tongue in distaste. That was when
he unexpectedly felt someone looking hard at him. This
was no phantom sensation. It coiled about him like
a python, uninterrupted by the onrushing currents of
* What the hell^S
Slogging against the tide, he felt it strongly
enough to still him in his tracks.
“Hey! Don't go stopping like that!”
“What’s this bastard stopping for?"
“Yo! Move it buster!"
Volleys of abuse hilling him about the head and
shoulders, Riki slowly turned, scanning the crowds.
"Rikj? What's up?” Guy asked curiously,
brought to a halt alongside him.
However, Riki was not inclined to answer as the
vexing, ensnaring gaze drew away ahead of him.
Where s it coming from?
It could be anybody, chafing at him in a way he
p. He drew his brows together, narrowed his eyes,
and then, abruptly, their eyes locked. A leaden darkness
engulfed him like the sudden lifting of a midnight fog on
a moonless night. The impudent gaze bore into his eye
sockets like a drill through soft wood.
Riki stood there stock still, as if his motor
functions had been paralyzed by a powerful electric
shock. His opponent’s face alone rose up clearly and
distinctly in the midst of the shadows swimming through
his field of vision.
Ai No Kusabt The Space Between
The visage displayed a kind of deeply chiseled
beauty that would prompt even the revered Academy*
manufactured pets to mb their eyes in surprise. It was
a beauty so exceeding that by itself it invited feelings
of awe. His eyes were shaded by tinted sunglasses, yet ,
there was no confusing where his attention was focused.
He stared down Riki. not moving a muscle. I
Riki's heart raced like pistons knocking in his '
chest. In his wide and astonished eyes, and all through
his awkwardly stiff body, the currents of time festered, 1
thickened, and seemed to run backwards. The raging
stroke of his heartbeat pounded mercilessly, clawing ;
at his throat, wrenching open the ever green eyes ot
memory. 11 I
Guy whispered to him. “Hey, Riki. \ou know ■
this guy?” The stillness between the two of them made
the question seem like a cough in a quiet concert hall. j
“You’re kidding me, right?” A slightly hoarse tremor
crept into his voice. Unable to avert his eyes from the
man ’s stunning countenance, Guy said again. “Right? ’ ■
His voice emerged in a clumsy whisper, throttled 9
by a barrier in the air. Kirie broke the wall of silence |
with a whistle. “Holy cow, would you look at that! He’s j
got some mane on him. And a Blondy—■” Kirie signaled I
the rest of the sentence with a jerk of his chin.
A long-haired . . . Blondy. Little wonder that ;
Kirie looked on in blank amazement. Flaunting the j
power of his own presence, his simple and functional j
outfit in the midst of the extravagantly clad crowds had j
the contrary effect drawing people s attention,
It was the sort of bodysuit particular to Tanagura
and worn by the elites, who generally wore their hair
long to distinguish themselves from the androids.
These elites possessed balanced proportions, perceptive
demeanors, 300-plus IQ brains, and reproductivelv
sterile engi neered bodies.
Hair color was determined according to the
NORAM hierarchal caste system. Those with external
responsibilities, namely the administrators who
functioned as the “face” of Tanagura, were known
as Onyx, with black hair. Their advisors, subdivided
according to the fields of their individual specialties,
were Ruby, Jade, and Sapphire. The silver hair of Platina
identified those in various high leadership positions.
; The “elite of ihe elite,” with the authority to
communicate directly with Jupiter, were the Blondy.
Mongrel types from the slums rarely had the opportunity
admire these “gods ot beauty" up close like this. It was a
ooce in a lifetime opportunity, if there ever was one.
I Kine piped up. “Hey, that guy’s still looking
ai us! He interested in us or what? Should we wave
Kirie s banter had become something of
an accepted joke among his mates, and it was up to
somebody to play the straight man. or deliver a cutting
come back. And then Lhey’d all laugh and be done with
it That was the customary pattern.
But this time Riki lashed back in a foul mood.
“Idiot! This isn’t the time or place! If you've got the time
to talk shit, then bugger off and do it someplace else!"
I Had Kirie been touched by the poisonous air
of the auction? Or was it Riki? A bit dumbfounded
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
themselves, Sid and Norris attempted to pacify Riki.
“Hey, Riki, what you so serious about'.’ 1 '
“Yeah, yeah. It’s just Kirie being his regular
stupid self." J
"What? That guy’s giving us the eye. We gotta
chance. Let’s take it, okay?” Kirie said, his tone of voice
strangely strained with excitement, “Look, it s a fucking
Blontly! Okay? One of those super-elite types that hardly
ever shows up in Midas!’
Kirie’s fevered, mismatched eyes were getting
on Riki’s nerves, but Kirie wasn't stopping. “We’ve got
nothing to lose! It may be one chance in a million, but
I’m not standing here sucking my thumb and giving it a
pass, C’mon, let’s go!" v
For a brief moment, Kirie's manner of speaking
was the very picture ot fearlessness* qj
Riki furrowed his brows and held his tongue, but
it wasn’t because he was suddenly at a loss for words.
Without realizing it, his clenched fists had begun to
tremble. The back of his throat ached. He’d been struck
by the inescapable feeling that he was being shown the
powerful resemblance between Kirie and himself.
What the hell —/ Riki ground his back teeth.
Whv? How? Of all things, why now? . 1
Kirie stood in front of him with a triumphant
smile on his lips. For the first time his body burned hotly
with the prospect of putting Riki in his place, and unlike
before, he fell not a pang of apprehension in his gut. "It's
too bad you and your charisma haven't got the balls for
the fight anymore. Your era is over. ’ I
Bui the pleasure of knocking him up the side
ot the face with words alone was completely different,
like it’d become nothing more than a verbal tic. Pushing
Guy and Riki aside, Kirie triumphantly set off at a brisk
“You okay with this, Riki? Just letting him go
like that? Guy asked, in a concerned voice. His eyes
followed Kirie as he darted into the tide of humanity,
bobbing up and down between the waves.
"Let him do what he wants," Riki said simply, a
pissed expression on his face.
Yet the hard, throbbing pain remained. It had
nothing to do with Kirie's verbal shots but with his own
resolve. Without a glance in Kirie’s direction, he looked
ahead of him to confirm the continuing presence of the
Blondy, When he did, as he might have expected, the man
was smiling. A cold smile, only the barest comers of his
thm lips turning up. It wasn’t a mirage or a hallucination.
He was smiling as if to laugh Riki to scorn.
In that moment, a burning sense of indignation
arose deep within him and brought out goosebumps on
his skirt. The impulse to wipe that cold, condescending
smile off the man’s fucking face and kick the shit out of
him so overwhelmed him that Riki's vision misted red.
Kine and the man s exquisite countenance
disappeared from sight, dragged along by human
currents. Urged along by Guy. Riki sullenly bit his lip
and started walking as a heavy, indescribable gloom
gripped his stomach.
That night Riki holed up alone in a bar on the
outskirts for some serious drinking. It wasn't a dive
lie usually frequented, but he came here for no other
purpose than to get drunk. Here, nobody knew his name.
It was like sitting at the bottom of the dark ocean atop a
lukewarm thermal vent,
I He sat at the bar, way in the back. In the
subterranean tavern the only other illumination came
from the blue glow arising from the glass in his hand.
The faint light seemed to draw a line between himself
and the Throaty, seductive voices and the hoots and jeers
burbling up from the pool tables.
He drained each tumbler in rapid succession, but
he didn’t feel the slightest bit intoxicated. The memory
of that chance encounter in Mistral Park stuck in his head
like a bullet in the brain; the poisonous gaze penetrating
the waves of the crowds, the striking and conspicuous
countenance, the vividly felt presence.
And that cold smile that looked right through
The freeze-frame of that last moment was
enough to make his blood boil, to make every nerve
ending tingle with electric fire. As far as coincidences
went, this reunion had been too real, too raw. The nausea
welled up and his heartbeat raced at the mere thought
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
Still —stiff —lie had forgotten nothing. Not the
perfect proportions of that Adonis, nor the cruel blue
eyes hidden behind shaded lenses. Like a talisman
etched into his retinas, the mere traces of the afterimage
brushing the borders of his vision alone could throw the
switch, bringing back to reality those three years effused
with rage and shame, M
Ills resoundingly cool voice—-a voice full of
unwavering confidence—was inseparably trapped in the
echo chamber of his ears. a
fas on Mink. The name on the tip of his tongue
tasted like a harsh, bitter pill crushed between his teeth.
The wellspring of all that bitterness still
occupied his thoughts. From this day forward, no matter
how deeply he mired himsel f in the sewer of the slums,
he would never heal this wound himself. )
The tingling blood lust showed in his deeply
furrowed brows, in the angry squint in the corners of his
eyes, making his otherworldly nature clear. What had
been flying beneath the radar of his consciousness now
climbed into clear skies. The true heart of the stranger,
having lapsed into a dense, stagnant, levered delirium,
now blazed back to life. i
“Hey, who's the bloke?” ■
“Got me. New face around here.” ■
The buzz ran through the place in a matter-of-
“Man. that's one bad looking dude.”
“Yeah. Let’s tear him a new one.” m
“Hey, hey, before you go starting something,
don’t you think we should send word to Jigg first?"
102 Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
The stirrings of interest in the bar were
something more than idle curiosity, and suddenly
erupted into a bonfire as a lanky fellow with a tawny
crew cut casually strode up to Riki. 1
“Shit, that's Jango.” 1
“Yeah, you’re right It's Jango.” ]
“Jango, you say?” 1
“See for yourself. Jango, God's own Grim
This was the dingo that was rumored to have
provoked the current conflict between Maddox and
Jeeks, and his appearance in the bar cast a whole new
light on everything. As to'how a mere informant came
to be called the “Grim Reaper.” nobody really knew
the details or the truth of the situation. Just the swirling
tendrils of rumor and innuendo. I
“The man is possessed.” |
“A guy who tried to cuckold him met a bad end,
You don't want to know." fl
“Look him in the eye and your blood runs
“Word is, gangs that locked horns with him got
in way over their heads and ended up in pieces." 1
Rumors led to rumors, multiplying as the number
of mouths multiplied, arousing fear and revulsion that
remained at a safe distance and under the breath.
Impervious as ever to the noisy reactions around
him, Riki raised the empty glass to the bartender, who
handed him a refill without objection or being prompted
Riki eyed it suspiciously.
“Your friend bought you one,” the bartender
said, with an ingratiating smile.
For the first time, Riki looked at the man who’d
occupied the seat next to him and softly clucked his
tongue. Drinking himself under the table in a squalid
bar at the end of town, the casual observer making note
of the glasses piling up would no doubt jump to the
same conclusion. But it irked Riki that any guy should
consider hitting on him in his present state.
The man's cropped haircut was distinct and set
the his profile apart: as a result, lie radiated a somewhat
foreign ambience, bet no matter whose perspective it
was, lie was not Riki's cup of lea. Far from it. Staring
at the man with upturned eyes, he growled. “Buster, if
you’re trying to pick me up. take it someplace else.”
“You think I’m stupid enough to try and drag
you into bed with a couple of drinks?” He laughed in a
strangely meaningful manner. “So, you always been a
bard-ass like this?”
The carnivorous cynicism in such a smile
momentarily aroused in Riki a curious sense of deja vu.
This guy — somewhere —
This unknown man took in his intense gaze and
chuckled to himself. “The third time around, and you're
still talking to me like that?”
The third time around -— More feelings of deja
vu burned in Riki's brain.
“Sorry that i didn't hit you hard enough the last
time to leave a bigger impression.”
Riki squinted at him. “Robby—is it?”
The man—Robby, that is—downed the contents
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
of the glass in his hand. "‘Well, at least it came to you
eventually. I'm overjoyed. Better if you didn’t need
a multiple choice test, though, Man, you've changed,
Riki took a good, long look at Robby—so long
that he became conscious of time passing. “So what
have you been eating to make you so fucking big?”
The sarcasm was entirely beside the point Not
having seen Robby in almost eight years, there wasn’t
much left of the fragments o memories left in his mind.
What he did remember of him was the discord and
antagonism from the Guardian foster center.
“It's funny, don't you think? As fang as you
had Guy, you didn i need ‘anybody else, right?" A
careless smile coining to his pursed lips, ‘7 lost the most
important thing in my life , You alone being happy is
what J can '( forgive. So you re losing something too!"
A piercing cry. And then ...
“ You 're okay with that? You tv really oka y with that
At the very last, shown a gl impse of his true fury,
]t seemed a sin that of all the memories stuck in
his head from Guardian, only the ones involving Robby
remained. Indeed, like waiting for the hopeful fairy at
the very botlom of Pandora's Box, all he could do was
bite his lip and ride it out.
“Looks like you’re doing okay."
“Thanks. But you haven't changed at all.”
A crooked smile of self-derision momentarily
twisted Riki's lips. “What's that supposed to mean?” lie
spat, the words bitter in his mouth.
How much had he changed these past several
years? Enough to scald his soul. “Means you haven’t
changed.” Robby said simply, before quickly adding.
“Guardian or the slums, whether Mr. Charisma or the
underdog, you've always been a stranger.”
It felt like being kicked in an old. throbbing
wound. Riki narrowed his eyes to slits. With no
sign of fear, Robby pressed the point with an almost
lackadaisical air, apparently intending to rub Riki the
wrong way. “I get it now, what Schell realty meant
back then when lie said you were the strongest and the
prettiest. You're some freak of nature, man.”
“Exactly what is it you want to say?" Riki's low',
harsh whisper sharpened to a point. Even the stagnanl,
alcohol-saturated haze of cigarette smoke seemed to
retreat, giving him a wider berth.
"Maybe what 1 m saying is that you never figured
out for yourself what makes you so damned scary. And
that’s why you sucked the life out of everybody.”
A second later Riki had tossed the contents of
his glass in Robby's face. Absorbed in the scene, an
audible gasp arose from the mouths of the onlookers.
There was God's Grim Reaper, and this crazy son of a
bitch was seriously calling him out. He must be out of
his fucking mind.
Riki slapped the money for the tab on the
countertop and got to his feet. Acting as if nothing had
happened, and without the slightest hitch in his voice,
Robby spit the booze out of his mouth and looked up at
“As soon as you left Guardian, Schell slarted
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
regressing back to an infantile state. After that, he didn't
last half a year. It was like, as soon as the two of you
were separated, something shriveled up inside of him
and the lights went out. That's how it ended for him.”
If Riki didn’t intend to stick around for more of
Robby’s reminiscing, he sure as hell wasn’t interested
in them licking old wounds together. But Robbv held
back the best for last and aimed his shot straight for the
“Besides, there's Junker as well. He disappeared
from Guardian just like Haruka"
Riki’s feet briefly stuck to the floor. “Junker—?”
His mind’s eyes flashed back to Junker's young face,
now little more than a shadow ... .-m
“But I guess that's not a subject you'd be
interested in—” 4
These were words that plunged the knife once
more into his chest. His heart ached in ways he found
hard to articulate. As if to put Guardian and the rest
of it behind him. Riki didn’t give Robby so much as a
backwards glance. 1
Robby watched Riki leave, not moving an
inch. His curtness up till then had been, contrary to
appearances, suffused with melancholy. Even alter Riki
had vanished from the edges of his sight, the connection
between them still lingered for a while longer.
“Man, what are you looking so down for? Not
the kind of face God’s Grim Reaper wants seen in
The sudden voice brought Robby back to his
senses. He didn't hear any particular strain of cynicism
in the voice. Like a light flicking on in the ocean depths
of his casually raised eyes, he recognized a red-haired
youngster and the tension slipped from his shoulders.
“Not only are you late for our appointment,” the
boy pouted, “But 1 find you with your eyes all over some
nobody.” He sat down on the barstool, still warm from
Riki’s body heat. “And in the end, he throws his beer in
your face and blows you off. Isn’t that what they call
Wiping the booze from his face with his sleeve,
Robby didn't bother asking him whether he was actually
asking him, or it was merely a rhetorical question.
“Well? Who was lie?" The kid kicked the rung
on Robby’s barstool in a sudden fit of temper. “Don’t
you blow me off, neither. If you've got a good excuse,
let's hear it. Or if you like. Til run the bastard down and
hear it from him.”
“Shut up. Get on that bastard’s bad side and
you'll end up the worse for it.”
“Huh. So you’re breaking up with me then?”
“No. I mean he's one crazy dangerous guy."
"How crazy dangerous?” he pressed, leaning
Robby sighed aloud. Why the hell was he so
taken with this pissy little kid who didn't look a thing
like Schell? But if he tried to explain himself, this
cocksure kid would light into him with both barrels:
What the fuck are you saying'.' 1 You think f was the only
one curious about hooking up with the famous Grim
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
"I le was a blockmate when we were at Guardian
together. Haven’t seen him in a long time," Robby said
in a disinterested air, choosing his words carefully.
After eight years, Riki really had been the last
person on earth he'd expected to run into. The moment
he’d caught a glimpse of Riki out of the comers of
his eyes, his blood stirred in his veins and his whole
body started to tremble. His heart and soul weren’t
throbbing out of some terrible nostalgia. The sense he
got from Riki’s unexpected presence in a dead-end bar
at the outskirts of lown the only place where such an
anomaly could slip between the cracks - was enough to
make his throat bum.
Driven on by these Strange feelings of hunger
and thirst, Robby had no choice but to approach Riki.
But as they talked, the fever gripped him all the fiercer,
shaking his body like the clammy churning of his viscera
or the trembling of hypothermia.
“Yeah, but what's your excuse?"
In fact, that incident had been the end product
of the antagonism whirling around Riki at Guardian, and
he was the only eye witness to the truth. No, at the lime,
the “truth” that had rent in two the borderline between
reality and fantasy—what exactly had he seen? Robby
still didn't know for certain. *
Just that whatever aura enveloped Riki scorched
all five of his senses. The fear and stark winder ihat
oozed from the pores of his skin like cold sweat had
burned into the deepest parts of his memory.
Schell, the foundation of his heart, had died.
And even Junker, the instigator of the incident, had at
some point vanished from Guardian. Still, the sense of
dysphoria in the pit of his stomach had haunted Robby
all these eight years, too often screaming back at him in
a waking nightmare.
"Maybe he was the firsi one you gave it up to?”
“I’m not that reckless or stupid.”
“You don’t say! So now you're telling me there's
a player out there who can cow the badass Jango?”
“A player, hub." The remark wasn't necessarily
wide of the mark, and Robby responded with a cynical
half-smile. If he was ihe Grim Reaper and hell followed
alter him. then Riki must be that rare, vampiric beast
that seduced men and then sucked their souls dry. “Yeah,
maybe so. After all, he was known as Varja,"
Robby gently grabbed the youngster by the roots
of his red hair and whispered softly in his ear, “Thai guy
was the Varja of the slums. Riki of B ison.”
Watching the kid’s eyes fly open wide, Robby
stifled a laugh from deep within his chest.
That day, a strange, cold rain clouded the skies
since dawn. As a result, the rotting, garbage-strewn
streets, the ruined walls of the colony, and everywhere
else rested in peace and seemed to draw u sigh of relief.
Yet, the rusted and corroded hours slogged by
in the shadow of the garish Midas night, blanketed by
she dark veil of the low-lying skies. Groaning deeply to
himself as he dragged his leaden feet and ass along, for
ihe first time in a while Riki made his way alone to the
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
Kirie wasn't there in his face, haunting his every
step. That the little eyesore was nowhere to be seen was
enough to drain some of the tension from his shoulders,
but he was still left with a strange feeling of malaise. He
couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that the absence
of Kirie alone would suck so much energy out of the
“Yo,” Guy said, spotting Riki. He rose from the
sofa, passing around a glass as if urging him to drink,
“What a drag, man. Where the hell you been? Got to
thinking you’d picked yourself a different crib to crash
Riki quenched his thirst with one gulp and
raised his eyes. Guy shrugged this shoulders. “Yeah, he's
a whiny brat, but when he’s 1101 around it never seems
there's anything to talk about.”
Riki just looked at him,
“He hasn’t been very sociable oflate.”
“All for the best, no?” Riki said bluntly. “I’m
sure a kid like him has got plenty of other children to
hang around with.”
“Hey, you know that’s not true,” Guy countered.
H is tone of voice revealed a degree of worry and concern
about which he was powerless to alleviate. He looked
softly into Riki’s eyes.
“What do you mean, what?” Guy asked, beating
around the bush. When he saw that he wasn’t about to
break through Riki's poker expression, he sighed. “Well,
whatever, I guess.”
He drained the glass with an air of resignation.
Regardless of how Guy really fell, Riki honestly couldn’t
have cared where Kirie was, who he was with, or what
he was doing.
It's got nothing to do with me.
! Dismissing the subject, Riki also meant to
vanquish that sense of Iason’s existence coiled around
his innards. Attempting to forcibly push it to the
peripheries of his brain, he changed the subject.
1 he ice broken, Riki continued in a disinterested
tone of voice. “I ran into Robby."
[ Guy's eyes widened and Riki shot him a skeptical
glance, juggling his glass in one hand as he talked about
not recognizing Robby’s face after eight years, Schell’s
death, and the mystery oI Junker’s disappearance.
While Riki spoke, Guy only responded with the
occasional “Huh” and “Really?” and other meaningless
conversational noises. When Riki arrived at the end of
his narrative, Guy warned him in a muted tone. “Riki,
Robby is bad news all the way. Best to not get involved
I As much as he hated to admit it, Riki had become
aware that more than the appearance of the slums had
changed in those three lost years, and it wouldn’t be easy
filling in the gaps.
“What kind of bad news?”
"He’s a dingo. An informant. A real badass that
people call God's Grim Reaper,”
Yet the look on Guy’s face suggested a degree
of persona] disl ike that was less than what the intensity
112 At No Kusabi - The Space Between
of liis words suggested. As Riki gazed back at him.
the cynical smile on Robby's completely changed
countenance came to mind.
“That’s harsh, man.”
“Hang with Robby and people arc bound to
jump 10 the wrong conclusion about you.” i
“He’s hooked up with Jeeks?”
“That’s right,” Guy stated, in an unusually
assertive manner. “For every one of us possessed by the
ghosts of Bison, there are those tanning the flames from
the sidelines, and opportunists waiting for the chance to
take us out.”
Riki—or rather, Guy and the others— had taken
the wind-blown remnants of the Bison and continued
to bum in a different form, their sentimentality and
expectations placed on indefinite hold.
Not to mention that the Jeeks gang now made
no secret of their call to extinguish Bison. Returning to
his old haunts alter three years, Riki had unwittingly
brought with him a gust of glowing embers back into a
The shadowy rumors that Bison's resurrection
might be at hand were little more than comical
speculation to Guy and the others, but they could not
simply be swept aside. q
“Yeah, but it's all bullshit, right?” Riki
murmured dully, j
Alt Guy could do was flash a wry smile. Not
long thereafter, his more pressing concern became a
reality in one fell swoop; the crumbling building they
used as their headquarters and safe house was blown to
bits in a single, raging inferno.
In the blink of an eye, the rumors raced through
L “Hey, looks like il finally started.”
“So it seems.”
“You hear about it too?"
"Yeah. Henna’s crib got smashed to
“He who strikes first wins the day, eh?”
The buzz of shock and amazement.
“Jeeks is taking drastic measures.”
“Those little bastards of his know no fear."
“Thai’s for sure. But only because they got no
clue how great Bison was at its peak,”
And more fervent than the blindly enthusiastic
acclaim, the handicapping of the opposition.
“Even Maddox is running scared now.”
“You think Jeeks got the jump on him?”
“If anybody does, it's gotta be Jeeks."
And a touch of anxiety welling up.
“Maddox and his mates gotta be stamping their
feet in frustration.”
“That’s just a feint, don’t you think? Word is,
they’re waiting for Bison and Jeeks to cannibalize each
other before moving in for the kill.”
“And take the lion's share for themselves?”
“But that doesn't mean they've got it in the bag
“Yeah. After all. Bison quit when they were at the top."
Meanwhile, the intense interest in every scrap of
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
information did not flag.
"It's only a matter of time before lota) war
“You really think so?” d
“Bet your ass. Getting hit like that in broad
daylight and doing nothing—the name of Bison ain't
worth crap anymore."
Venting feelings of impending doom.
“You think Riki’s going to make a move?”
“Naw. What can that loser do?”
“Right. Maybe the old Riki. but the new Riki
came back missing a pair.”
Bystanders to the real action bitterly bitching
among themselves. *
“Those little twerps thal Jeeks has soldiering
for him aren't the brightest bulbs in the marquee either,
When it comes to Riki. best to let thal sleeping dog lie.”
“Diss the Varja of the slums to his face and he’s
not just going to stand there and take it, is he?”
“He that bad, this Riki?”
“What do you think? We're talking about the
Riki of Bison. So, fuck yeah."
Shooting the shit with nothing but their own
egos to guide them by. 9
“Yeah, it’s gonna be eye tor an eye." X
“Right down to the flesh and bone."
And so the rumor-mongering only grew.
“What do you want to do?” Sid asked. He stood
in front of the ruins of their old crib and drew himself up
to his full height, his face fiercer than usual.
"What do you want to do?” Norris echoed with
a dismissive sigh. “Smashed in broad daylight like this,
what the hell am 1 supposed to do about tt?"
That wasn’t what Sid had asked, but Norris
didn’t know how to deal with the real question they were
“Maybe this will finally be enough to light a fire
under somebody's ass.” Luke said, as if articulating the
thoughts of the others. He took a drag from a cigarette
and kicked the rubble at his feet.
Riki cast him a sideways glance, a vertical line
creasing his brows. He couldn’t know for certain, but the
truth seemed pretty obvious. Beating the tar out of those
Jeeks kids might not have been the best of ideas. ! ve no
doubt been showing my true colors for a long time now.
He wasn’t to blame for everything, bul he
certainly provided the impetus, struck the spark that lit
“In any case .. . wc can crash at Laura's." Guy
suggested, and nobody contradicted him.
A siege mentality and an unrequited hunger.
Back during thal brief period of madness and fury when
they'd tailed the roost in the unregenerate slums, the
members of Bison had learned the pointless stupidity of
constantly baring their fangs. But there was simply no
comparing then and now.
Then, they could placate their hot-blooded
emotions and calculate when and where to blow their
lops, increasing the exact amount of tension to the
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
Then, the sight of the charismatic Riki alone
was enough. His words intoxicated them. They shared
equally in every moment of his burning zeal. The
tremendous sense of exuberance that came from being
around him was more than enough.
Bui now Riki had nothing to say. The power of
his charisma had been extinguished and this defanged
Vaija had no direction to point them in. They must have
been coming to this realization for a long time now, but
the mortification! of seeing it displayed right before their
eyes lay far beyond logic and reason.
The slums were restless and astir, as if poised on
the balls of its feet, ready to llee at the slightest notice.
Trembling, off balance, staring down at its own uncertain
feet, and cheeking out the face of every stranger.
Amongst all that, a new rumor made the rounds.
“Are you shitting me? I heard Kirie’s procuring partners
for those mechanoid bastards.” J
“Yeah, I heard it’s a good way to earn a little on
the side. They say the latest big thing with those types is
doing it with a human.”
“They can't even get the professional ladies in
Midas to look their way, so they set their sights on us
“Idiot. Androids don't get a jonesing for sex like
that. There’s got to be a catch somewhere.” js
"Probably. I ley, you know Tom from Creutz?
He took Kirie up on the offer— half out of curiosity I'm
sure—but got seriously addicted. Now lie skulks around
all day looking to get hooked up again.”
“You think maybe they're using us as human
guinea pigs for that new drug? They say you shove it
up your ass and you come, like, instantaneously. And it
doesn’t leave a trace behind.”
“Yeah, but if you’re telling me that’s my one
ticket to paradise in this world, then regardless of the
money I’d like to give it a shot just once."
“No way. I'm telling you, a bunch of fucked-up,
burned-out guys like us are getting the thumbs down
from a mile off,"
“Hell, even those guys can’t be too picky, man.
Anyway, it’s just little kids getting the offers from what
“Yeah, it's pretty damn obvious they’re
narrowing the target. I'm telling you, something hinky
is going down.”
“And Kirie and the others are taking some sort
“Seems so. Bastards have got their bases
“Tightwads is what they are. You’d think they’d
want to toss a bit of change to die rest of us. But no.”
It was hard to tell with Sid when he was joking
and when he was being serious, so the rest Ql lhem dryly
and half-heartedly laughed along with him. But once
that awkward interruption was over, the tedious silence
No longer able to abide the strained atmosphere,
Norris broke the ice. “When it comes to stuff like that, Riki
was the one who did the thinking. He was the one who
brought us the kind ol stash the slums had never seen."
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
Only reminiscing about the past could tide over
the listless, wasted hours.
“1 wonder what the hell he did." Luke pondered.
Knowing that wasn't enough, he added, “Wouldn’t
surprise me if he did the same thing Kirie did, you
know?” Muffled laughter rose in his throat. “Instead of
selling out his mates, what if somebody got the drop on
him instead? But isn’t that what Kirie always says?”
Nobody laughed. After a few moments, Luke’s
provocative remarks simply evaporated away without
further comment. 1
“1 ley, what’s the big deal? Or are you all saying
1 hit the nail on the head?”
The derision was'obvious in Luke's irritated
tone of voice. Despite what he said, Riki let it all
flow over him like water over polished marble. Luke
narrowed his eyes more intensely, unable to stomach
this nonchalance. -M
“1 really don't care if you think so or not. Go
ahead and believe whatever you want,” Riki said.
The blunt brush-off made Luke suck in his
cheeks in disdain. “You know, Riki, seeing that side
of you makes me want to puke.” He spit the words out
in a strained voice, as if wringing the breath out of his
windpipe. “You piss me off so bad E want to bend you
over and fuck you up the ass until you’re weeping far
Nobody thought this was Luke’s sense of humor
getting out of hand. The alcohol had revealed the true
nature of his exasperation, now glistening everywhere
like sweat on a runner’s body. I
Perhaps poisoned by Luke presence, or perhaps
entangled in his own fierce feelings flailing beneath the
water’s surface and wanting to hammer the nail down
in a single blow, Riki responded. “If that’s what you
want to do, then give it your best shot. But 1 don't want
to hear any whimpering after I turn you into a dickless
Riki delivered the threat deliberately and slowly.
There was no ragged, angry edge to his voice, only cold
indifference. Yei the searing fire hidden in his clear black
eyes like a sheathed sword revealed itself in his strange
and intimidating aura. Everybody caught their breaths
and stilled their voices, i hey had seen what they were
not supposed to see and felt the punishing lash reserved
for such trespasses.
A heavy, suffocating silence followed. Unable
to stand it any longer, Norris abruptly averted his eyes.
Sid held his breath and id it out. repeatedly licking his
smarting lips. And Luke made a big show of downing
his entire bottle in one gulp.
Guy alone continued 1o stare at Riki with
Had he dared to assume the pose of a beaten dog
in order to maintain his freedom? No. That was not the
He was a captive of the ghosts of the past, and
his sin was coming to see himself in those terms alone.
Was facing the truth directly and being too hardheaded
to he swayed by emotion all the product of his ego?
No, it was not the current state of bis pride that
Aj No Kusabi — The Space Between
stood him in the dock. The party under indictment was
the passion that had sprung forth from that surprisingly
naive and clueless period in his life. Though these
passions had long since spent themselves, the revering,
upturned eyes all about him had not changed.
He was far beyond being fed up w ith it all. to the
point that hts simmering irritation was dose to boiling
over. He would be a slave to no one. No shackles would
bind his hands and feet. He would be free, and yet the
fetters of the past that he wished to casl aside instead held
him fast, an invisible weight burdening his every step.
The summer neared its end. It had been
“summer" in name only, unaccompanied by the heat of
a scorching sun, a fleeting season that passed quickly by,
leaving behind only taut and turbulent eddies in the air.
“Eh?" Norris responded reflexively, as if
thinking he had somehow heard w'rong.
Though it was noon, the Laura hideout sat in
darkness. Norris was sharpening his keepsake butterfly
knife, to him more a curious artifact of the past than an
"We jump Riki tonight," Luke blurted out.
“That’s not funny."
Luke scowled at Guillory and Sid Tm being serious."
Norris snorted. “Stop talking through your ass.
Guy will be with him. you know."
“Hey, haven’t we already plowed this ground?
It's been over between the two of them for a while now.
Didn’t you know that?"
Finding hims elf at a loss for words, Norris sank
back into silence.
“Since Riki’s return, I haven’t heard any talk
about Yori coming back."
Norris said mostly to himself, “Doesn’t mean
a damn thing. You could turn heaven and earth upside
down and Riki’s never gonna be your bitch."
Whether they’d broken up for certain or whether
Guy was taking Yori back, it was all beside the point. Riki
and Guy were entwined at a much deeper level, deeper
than the sex. There was more than enough evidence of
that fact, enough to make him absurdly jealous.
Luke should know all ihis as well, so why was
he still beating this drum? Norris couldn’t begin to
imagine what was going through Luke's mind.
“Yo, Luke. What're you still holding this grudge
for? Give it up already . . . even Guy’s not laughing
anymore. And besides, Riki wasn't yanking your chain
about what he'd do to you."
“Yeah, interesting, isn’t it? You all reacting like
this. Me, frankly I’ve been gelting real bored of Late with
guys like you sticking their asses out without even being
He spoke lightly, but if his intention was to
settle the matter among his mates in a joking manner, it
didn't help in the slightest.
“You think maybe you’ve been downing a
bit too much stout and losing a few brain ceils in the
bargain?" Norris kicked back on the sofa, stretching out
his legs, as if asking what sense there was to keeping at
it like this.
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
Nevertheless, Luke was undeterred. “I'm not
saying 1 need any of your help. Just that you keep
yourselves nice and wasted until the deed is done.”
“Well excuse fucking me.”
“For old time’s sake, we'll treat this as a joke.
But not a second time.”
Luke grinned. “What are you getting all freaked
out for. Sid? It's been a long time since Riki was running
Bison and settling scores. It's a little too late now to start
playing the hero,” J
“What the hell are you trying to say?” Sid asked.
In most cases Sid was fairly indifferent to Luke's oddly
roundabout way of pushing the matter, but this lime
Luke was really getting on his nerves.
“The Riki of Bison you used to fawn over is
nowhere to be seen. You understand? That guy is a
beaten dog, but he's got the same lucking beautiful body
as usual. Ass as tight as a drum. Just thinking about him
down (here makes me hard. No shit. Same for you too?
That's why you chatted up Kirie, right? Because he's the
splitting image of the old Riki. But doing the real thing?
Thatd even get a little pecker like yours up.”
For a long second. Sid goggled at him with a
blanched face, as if all the blood had drained from his
head. Only his bugged-out eyes burned red, as if another
person had peered inside the heart and laughed and what
he found there. What Sid was feeling at that moment
was more the pure blood lust of murderous desire than
Rather than having them go at it right then and
there, Norris cleared his throat ominously.
“Look, Sid, when I look at Riki's smug, don’t-
give-a-shit face, 1 get so pissed I can hardly stand it.” He
spoke in a completely different register than the cynical
tone he'd used up till now. In the strangled depths of his
voice Luke’s true intentions were laid bare. “With the
old Riki. you got the feeling that an unwelcome touch
would singe your fingers. I le was on fire, man, a force of
nature. Just standing next to him was like standing next
to a roaring fire.”
The memory was forever green and alive in his
mind, down to the heat of his body:
“And Luke! Don t fuck around with the small
fry! ft's just Barth! Drop the bastard! Okay? Lets not
screw this up, people /”
Riki's pep talks tore through the clamor like
a sweet elixir, giving them an adrenaline rush more
powerful than any drug. Those coal-black eyes. That
voice. The pleasant, tingling feeling when he called
them out by name inspired them to believe that anything
was possible, no matter how reckless.
"Despite that indifferent air of his, when he was
out in front he was a fucking fireball. No matter how
deep in the shit we were, no matter how crazy things got,
he was up for whatever came our way.”
The roar of the tricked-out jet bike leading the
charge. The hot, slinging blast of air in their faces. That
veal sense of “oneness” that came when Riki was leading
the pack was better than the ecstasy of sex.
Hot. Throbbing. Deafening. Burning.
With Riki at the tip of the spear, standing at his
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
back was like standing behind the white-hot afterburner
of a jet engine. When Ri ki and Guy were on the bike
together, it was Guy’s prerogative to make Riki ride
‘7/ it's a two-seater, you re in back , Riki. 1 can i
stand you treating this valuable piece of machinery like
a toy .”
It was only in this case that the always reserved
Guy wouldn’t hand over the keys. It wasn't that the bike
was valuable. And while it didn’t necessarily constitute a
criticism of Riki's throttle-wide-open driving style, Guy
wasn t the only one with his hands over his eyes. As far
as Guy was concerned, seating Riki behind Itttn was a
thousand times better than watching his back and having
the anxiety give him ulcers.
Not only Luke, but Norris and Sid as well
(though they wouldn't admit it in so many words}
wanted to complain. Why is Guy alone allowed special
privileges like that?
If such outbursts of jealousy scoured their
hearts, in lime it would eat them through and through,
"When you were with Riki you felt the blood
pounding in your veins, you felt like you could do
anything, like you weren't afraid of nothing. You
Sid and Norris didn’t hesitate in nodding
vigorously in response to this indictment. They had been
similarly bewitched by Riki’s charisma.
"But when I think about it now, compared to
what it meant to be the pit bulls of Hot Crack back then,
were a bunch of runny-nosed kids. That’s why, even
when Riki says lie’s quitting Bison and takes off, nobody
grabbed his ass and hauled him back here.”
But that was so much crying after spilt milk.
You're just gonna cast us aside? Maybe if they'd told
him off, dug in their claws and not let go, things would
have worked out differently.
After all, they were just bullshitting around.
"Bui for whatever reason, doesn’t that mean we're all
hot about Riki in one way or another?”
Strangely enough, without pretension or self-
consciousness, this proposition carried the day. And so
it was logical to ask: ' But what's with him now? He’s
always getting shit-faced on stout with that half-stoned
look in his eyes.”
The air of disappointment was doubly so. Even
fully aware that this was an irrational reaction, the
feelings festered like slow poison and tore away ai their
hearts of darkness.
“Always giving us these looks like we aren't
welcome in his presence any more ”
Meant to be the final word but smacking of so
much regret that they came across as a bunch of sad
sacks, forever dragging the anchor of the past around
“That being the case, we keep riding him until
he can't ignore us any more.”
That being the case, they should call his bluff - ,
get in his face, and keep at it until the bitter end. That’s
what Luke was saying. Such an approach was far more
attractive than inconclusively dragging things out like
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
Sid and Norris glared unblinking at Luke.
Were they so taken aback by his arrogant
speechifying that they'd lost any will to take him down
a few notches? No. The two of them simply had nothing
to say. Voicing his incomprehensible anger towards Riki.
Luke seemed to be speaking for all of them, and they fell
no need to pile on at this point.
The feelings of superiority and self-satisfaction
they had shared with Riki were coupled with an all-too-
sudden sense of loss. An ineffable hunger and thirst
replaced what they should have had in common after
four years. Still, they knew they couldn’t go to the
same extremes as Luke. Dumb with consternation, their
rationality warped and refracted, the silence stagnated
and the time passed for them like prisoners wasting
away in solitary, in the heavy gloom it became hard to
The familiar sound of the door opening and
closing suddenly disturbed the air. &
They all gulped, their shoulders shrinking. As if
by the sound of a gunshot, their eyes were drawn toward
“What? What’s going on?” Riki asked, pausing
on the spot with a perplexed expression on his face
But nobody opened his mouth, each in his own
way awkwardly averting his eyes.
Luke answered curtly. “He wasn't with you
today? He did say something to the effect of having a
prior engagement with somebody."
Sid gave Luke a threatening look. Norris clucked
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
to himself as well, finally grasping why Luke had been
talking up his plans for tonight.
Ignoring the had vibe that the rest of them were
filling the silence with, Riki said nothing himself as he
sat down in his regular place. Luke held out a bottle of
stout. “Want one?”
Riki answered with a nod. He chewed on some
tasteless bui solid food and washed it down, then brought
the stout slowly to his lips. Rolling the stout back on
his tongue, lie felt the particularly piercing bitterness
stabbing like tiny needles, little by little working it
towards the back of his throat.
He’d gotten used to it by now. Riki took a deep
breath and let it out, and then passed the bottle around.
Norris shook his head. Well . that being the case . . .
Riki’s gaze shifted encouragingly to Sid.
“No thanks. I'm not in the mood tonight.”
Luke smiled thinly. Whether a bitter or derisive
smile, it was hard to tell. Riki made nothing o^ it. He
shrugged and look another slug of the stout.
Before long, his eyes began to steep with the
watery, intoxicating haze. Stretching his languid limbs,
a faint smile rose to his lips. Norris gulped despite
himself, his eye opening wide. The sigh that spilled
from Riki’s lips seemed to have an air of almost dejected
wistfulness. The daydream that Norris imagined was so
entrancing that it made his throat tremble.
Riki had exposed to their eyes his frank and
Ordinarily, overtaken by the waves of pleasure
together, they would have overlooked this hidden side of
him. That, together with the absence of Guy the only
person who could act as a check valve for Riki in these
situations unexpectedly etched the vivid image on the
backs of their retinas.
Sid pressed his lips together and glued his eyes
on Riki. as if to devour his entire being. A moment in
which he grew r hesitant even to take the next breath.
A momeni in which the euphoric desire to take and
Within the strained silence, each of their breaths
synchronizing with Riki’s pulse, pushing them higher
and higher towards the edge of the abyss—
But nothing happened that night.
In the face of Sid and Norris’s unusual display of
gallantry, Luke was forced to exercise a bit of prudence.
Or perhaps more importantly, he was never given an
opening in which to act.
Even with the two of them awkwardly rushing
alternately off to the John, overwhelmed by Riki’s aura,
[ uke didn't bother to flash the thinnest of derisive smiles.
But the hunger churning in his chest was so much worse
than he imagined, and that realization scalded him to the
The wind blowing in from the green belt beneath
the deep blue sky grew cooler day by day. The sparkling
sunlight staining the azure sky at this time of year was
fresh and brilliant
Ceres. One-fifty in the afternoon.
The air car sprinted through the disorderly urban
center like a snake's flickering tongue. The crowds
turned as one as it sped by, briefly grazing their senses.
The tail lights restlessly flicked on and off as the vehicle
bobbed and weaved along the avenues, as if further
advertising what a curious sight it was.
The elegance of the high-quality silver body
was obvious at a glance. Not a smudge or stain
clouded the metal’s surface. While compact in size, the
functional aesthetics of the streamlined body indicated
an extraordinary efficiency.
This mouth-watering gem that slum dwellers
were so rarely granted the opportunity to lay eyes
on roared down the main street, scattering the trash
strewn along the pavement, swirling the dust into small
Right at the building, lelt at the intersection.
Onlookers gaped with surprise. They couldn’t
take their eyes off it.
Having seemingly entertained itself to its
own satisfaction, and as if iinally satisfied with its
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
performance, the air car finally downshifted.
“Who in the world was this?” they all wondered.
Flying this outrageous, utterly out-of-place thing in
Rasing its way through the inquisitive clamor,
ihe air car slipped down to the ground and stopped. With
the greatest of grace, and without the slightest squeak or
complaint, the door opposite opened with a soft whoosh.
The bustling crowds stilled and held their collective
breath in anticipation as the lithe figure of a man alighted
from the car. Seeing his face, a greater stir arose.
There stood a refined and stylish Kirie, almost
His resplendent,' custom-tailored outfit
practically glowed on his slender frame. His chest was
bared just enough to reveal a golden chain. The bracelet
on his left wrist cast off a unique and glittering light as
if it was part of the set. To all knowing eyes this was no
People gasped despite themselves, exhaling
sighs of envy. The accompanying looks of intense
jealousy achieved an equal if not greater weight,
gradually coiling around him like barbed and clinging
However, Kirie’s expression did not change.
Parking his ride mid-air with the remote control in his
hand, he set off at a gait meant to brash off the eyes
following him, and turned left at the first intersection.
At the end of that street was an old, run-down
building, fie rode to the fifth floor on the old-style
elevator, crossing elevated corridors into the heart of the
structure. This w as Laura, the backup safe house used by
Riki and the rest of the gang.
Kirie slowly approached the dark green door and
stopped there. Now. for the first time, a smile creased his
lips. It was unlikely that this sudden smile was prompted
by the thought of seeing his old mates again after such a
long time, however.
There was a small panel on the wall to the left,
and with a practiced hand Kirie entered the password.
The door slid open as if beckoning him onto the stage.
Luke's frank, sarcastic voice met him almost at
once. “Geez, I thought it was some lucking aristocrat
making all that racket.”
The product of his little public performance
earlier. Or perhaps Luke meant to put him his place. The
newcomer was always the low man on the totem pole.
“You certainly cleaned yourself up. Made
yourself twice the man you used to be,"
"Yeah, yeah. You've turned yourself into a
regular light show."
The scales had fallen from their eyes and they
were finally seeing Kirie in his true, natural brilliance.
Yet they didn't seem the slightest bit disturbed by
this transformation. It almost seemed as if they were
trying to pull one over on him. Kirie fell a prick of
disappointment in his heart.
Still he responded. "Hey, just the same-old.
same-old. But as long as you’re asking so nicely
The same old Kirie. incapable of hiding his
know-it-all attitude. He was dressed to the nines and his
arrogance wasn’t far behind. Or perhaps he was putting
Ai No Kusabi The Space Between
on airs deliberately. In any case, the sense of superiority
Kirie was lording over ihem was hard to ignore.
“You’ve certainly outdone yourself, Kirie,” Guy
mumbled under his breath, a forced smile on his lips.
“But don’t fly too close to the sun.”
A beat, and Riki spat out in a low voice, "l ie’s
still a punk kid.”
"Hey, hey. consider things from his point
of view, f I is triumphant return! Let him hitch up his
britches and do a little strutting around.’’
Still, as soon as he’d shown his face for the first
time in a long time, Riki was there, uncoiling his ill
humor in his face.
Just following in your footsteps, hasten But that
was the kind of verbal hand grenade only Guy would
dare throw back at him.
"Heh. still getting your rocks off on that crap
stout? I'll gift you some vintage Vartan next time,”
"Really? Wow, sounds like you're really in the
money. I didn’t know selling out your mates to those
android assholes paid so well.”
Kirie burned inside. But instead of pitching a fit
like he used to, lie grinned instead. "Why not give it a try
then? I ’ll make the introductions if you like.”
“Sure. And when I get to the end of my rope I’ll
give you a holler. For the time being. I’ll take the Vartan.
A bottle or two. But why be so stingy? How about the
whole fucking case, your lordship?”
"Fine, fine. Leave everything to me. More than
enough to drink yourself into the gutter of your choosing.
Just try and make sure you don’t expire there.”
The prickly back and forth banter was throwing
off sparks that threatened to burst into an inferno,
and this time Norris jumped in. "Naw, whatever you
can spring for, that’s fine. The Vartan don't mean shit
compared to dealing with Jeeks and his runts. They blew
Henna’s crib to kingdom come. It’s getting totally out of
This time, cracking wise, Kirie unwisely scoffed
at their timidity. "Crying yourself to sleep at night? Man,
what a shame. Bison’s sure got their tails tucked fimtly
between their legs.”
Silence felt like a heavy curtain. Kirie didn’t
know the meaning of that silence. The troubles they’d
seen. The clashes and the discord all playing out there on
the razor’s edge. Which is why Kirie read their words all
"Well, if you like. I ll bust ’em one in the
mouth,” he said, with every ounce of his insufferable
self-confidence. “Anybody with no stomach for the light,
just give me a nod and I’ll take your place.” Devoid of
self-consciousness, he dug himself in deeper.
"Hey, that’s awful good of you.” Norris said
dryly, “Yeah, enough of empty talk. Nothing’s holding
this kid back.”
Thai was hardly the opinion of the consensus,
but it may have been sufficient to speak to the tangle
of complexities in their hearts. No sarcasm or making
fun. It was enough to make Kirie feel all the more
"What? You think I'm tooting my own horn
here?” He forced an upward inflection into the heart of
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
the question. “i could cut those Jeeks brats down to size
without breaking a sweat." Completely caught up in the
delusion and forgetting where he was. Kirie scrunched
his beautiful brows in a show of defiance.
“Well—you certainly do have a mouth on you.
but I'll believe it when 1 see it. It’s not easy to take little
kids with big heads telling tall tales seriously. Though
we can't begrudge the fact that for a bunch of weaklings
burning through our assets and clinging to past glories,
everybody has been so nice to give us far more credit
than we deserve."
Luke and Sid exchanged glances—not so much
agreeing with what Norris had said as the way he said
it and chuckled, the laughter rumbling up from the
back of their throats.
Kirie bit his lip. He got the feeling that he
being knocked down another peg or two, his feathers
deliberately ruffled. It pissed him olT. For the first time
he realized that what it meant to make a name for himself
in the slums. If he backed down now he would come out
the worse for the exchange, so he ground his back teeth
together and spoke. “Fine. Soon enough you'll see what
I’m made of. I'm a man to be taken seriously.”
I Ic'd dared stand his ground, and as he glowered
back at them he fell himself rising to the occasion. I'm
making a name for myself and living up to it! But first
he had a more pressing concern: to tear down the wall
standing in his way. It was only then that Kirie recalled
why he had come all the way down here in the first
He collected himself, took a deep breath, and
walked determinedly up to Guy. “So, you reconsider our
conversation from the other day’?"
Ignoring Riki, Kirie sal down and looked
Guy right in the eye. He betrayed not a dicker of the
antipathy and revulsion he'd been feeling until a minute
ago and effortlessly switched gears. The transformation
impressed even Guy. But that had nothing to do with
Guy spoke bluntly, showing not the slightest
prevarication. “If you're saying what l think you’re
saying, the answer is still no."
Kirie clucked his tongue despite himself. Now
they were only adding insult to injury. “That’s why 1
asked if you’d had any second thoughts.” Uncontrollable
feelings of irritation barbed his tongue and his voice
“You're a persistent little bugger, Kirie."
“But why?" Kirie pressed angrily. “Why throw
away a golden opportunity? Don't you get it? They're
the elites. They looked you over and gave you the
thumbs up. Why turn it down? It's such a waste.”
He spoke without bitterness or sarcasm, and
not once did he attempt to appeal to Guy’s self-respect.
Rather, Kirie treated the rejection as a personal loss.
If he'd been able to pull it off, just a ray of that glory
falling on him would have sufficed.
Yet the openness of the expression on his face
budged Guy not a inch. “You're trying too hard to make
the sale and I'm not buying it," Guy said, his tone of
“But I'm telling you, this is on the up-and-
Ai No Kusabi '1 he Space Between
up!" Kirie sighed as if in enormous disbelief. "You’re
thinking about this way too much."
“Some Tanagi ira Blondy types want to make pets
of us mongrels?" Guy hissed between his teeth. “What
kind of a bloody joke is that?" Next to him Riki’s head
suddenly shot up. "Besides," Guy continued, “You’re
telling me you came all the way here to single me out?
I find that the hardest to believe. I’m an ordinary bloke,
no matter how rosy the spectacles you’re wearing. You
don’t think somebody got me confused with a higher
class of chap?"
“Why do you have to be so negative about
all this? Just because we’re mongrels from the slums
doesn’t mean we have to livedike this. I’m telling you,
no mistake! 1 heard it loud and clear: the guy who runs
with that black-haired man. At the time, you were with
Riki, so it’s gotta be you, right?"
So Us gotta be me, Guy repeated to himself. His
hair was charcoal gray. It was obvious that the Blondy
was not drawn to any particularity of Guy’s person. With
the black-haired man. If that indeed was what he'd said,
then it was Riki he'd been looking at all along.
But why? Why single out himself and not Riki?
Kirie insisted this deal was on the “up and up." Perhaps
lie was right. When it came to Blondies from Tanagura,
he had no idea what got their rocks off. Like Kirie said,
big chances like this simply didn’t present themselves on
a daily basis. When a choice cut of meal got tossed out
like this, common sense told him to pounce on it.
But he’d been with Riki ever since their time
at Guardian and was able to look objectively and
unabashedly at himself in the coolest of lerms. Permit
himself to be driven by the desires in front of his eyes
and the consequences that followed would exact a steep
price. He could see the truth of that maxim everywhere
he looked. If he harbored even the slightest of doubts,
the best course of action was no! to plunge recklessly
ahead. That instinct was crucial.
Kirie was dangling the glittering lure in front of
his eyes. Don t be the coward who didn f go for the brass
ring. But Guy had no intent of violating the basic rules
of his life at this point.
“Let’s think through this again. Okay? A sweet
otfer like this—there isn’t a fool alive who wouldn’t
jump at it.”
But Riki had heard enough of Kirie’s spiel.
“Hey!" he interrupted, leaning forward and grabbing his
Kirie frowned at him and shook his arm
free. “What?" he growled, clearly annoyed by the
“Is that Blondy the same bastard we saw at the
“What if it is?"
In that instant, like a blow to the back of head,
the image of lason flashed through Riki's mind. That
cold, meaningful smile he'd seen in Mistral Park. A
strange, frosty sense of panic rippled up his spine. He
Kirie glared back at him, all the resentment and
bile pouring from his eyes. “The invitation wasn’t for
you," he said with sneering laughter.
Ai No Kusabi - The Space Between
But Riki paid no mind to tCirie’s boorish
attempts at ridicule. His silent contempt was focused
on one person and one person alone. On the image of
that Adonis in all his terrible and sagacious beauty. On
That day, the safe house used by Jeeks and his
gang was hit by a tear gas bomb. Amidst the screams and
angry roars, enveloped by the acrid, stinging, choking
clouds of white smoke, the youngsters stumbled out of
the building in ones and twos.
The response from the gawkers and onlookers to
their cries for help was cold and indifferent.
No, far from indifferent
The impudence and ferociousness of these
punks had come back to bite them, and while not so bold
as to applaud the perpetrators of the “crime” in public,
more than a few satisfied spectators could be heard
congratulating them under their breath.
Serves ’em right.
Unlike Bison, revered with equal parts of fear
and admiration, the Jeeks gang had run relentlessly
through its stores of good will, and became an object of
general loathing of the slums.
“What a pitiful sight."
“Look at them, pissing their pants."
“This is all it takes to turn them into a bunch of
Writhing on the ground, tears and mucous and
snot pouring from their eyes and noses, they aroused not
a shred of sympathy. Only greater disdain and abuse.
This humiliation quickly made Jeeks the butt
of jokes, and the naked glee again aroused in people
feelings of discontent. Nobody knew who started it, but
it began 10 be whispered about as il true: that as far as
Jeeks was concerned— Maddox notwithstanding his
natural enemy remained the ghost ot Bison and its
equally ghostly reputation.
An eye for an eye.
This was the revenge of Bison. ! he rumors
raced through the slums. The speculation spread like a
mutating, contagious disease, growing and mutating as it
reached into every nook and cranny, reaching pandemic
Hello there. 1 don’t believe we’ve previously
h ad the pleasure of meeting between the pages of a book
from Crystal Publishers. Pm sorry about the long wait.
Though Tm not sure what I'd be doing here il no one
bad been waiting in the first place . . . but (hat s just the
nervous and timid Yoshihara talking.
And then there's this business of the first chapter
of the hardcover version turning into an entire paperback
volume. Probably a lot of you were surprised to discover
this as well. Though perhaps not as surprised as those of
you who weren’t even aware that one "Rieko Yoshihara’
had written a novel such as this.
Well, a lot has changed in a mere decade. It
seems like ancient history to me now.
In the meantime, Sun Publishing Company has
released a two volume, direct-to-video anime, along
with a CD audio drama that covers the untold story of
Riki anti lagan's three missing years. Participating in
such interesting developments on completely different
creative fronts has been quite an exciting experience
for me. That’s why Pm so pleased that the novel is now
being re-released in paperback format.
After all is said and done, the best thing about
the paperback publication is again beholding the
magnificent illustrations by Katsumi Mtchihara. Thank
you very much, Katsumi. In one way or another, the
radical passions of that period of my life are beginning
to bubble up again.
To be sure, just because a certain series (the
Hiromi-kun books) pul out by a certain publisher
(Kadokawa) happens to be a young adult romance with
no explicit sex doesn’t mean those feelings have grown
stale. Far from it, though the physical body may grow
older, wicked thoughts and earthly desires remain wilh
Back when this story first appeared in June
Magazine, happily-ever-after young adult romances
were noi its mainstay. The hot and heavy contents ol
the magazine were apparent just from glancing at the
illustrations. A foreboding'aura wafted from its pages.
Honestly, l read it from cover to cover as if licking the
cookie bowl clean.
Perhaps that’s w r hy, to this day, I still have those
issues in my possession. I'd say that pretty much sums
up my opinions on the subject.
I’ve made major revisions to the story since,
but in terms of the contemporary BL genre I'd be very
pleased if it imparts even a touch of that unique June
flavor, because in so many ways that was my starting
Well, then. Now that the first volume is out. I’m
sure plenty of you are wishing to hurry me along to the
next! Still, I’m very grateful we’ve been able to spend
some leisurely time here together.
Incidentally, along with the paperback,
Kadokawa is releasing Hirombkun no Sat nan ("The
Misfortunes of Hiromi-kun”) and the second installment
of CD audio drama based on Ai no Kusabi. If the
opportunity presents itself, be sure to check them out.
On that note, 1 bid you all goodbye and good
luck until next time.
AI NO KUSABI
THE SPACE BETWEEN
The Mans upturned blue eyes were so unimaginably
beautiful that they could make anybody tremble
with awe. In this moment , however f they also
glimmered with an icy fire—perhaps revealing
the Jury oj his wounded pride, or rather , a
manifestation of his uncontrollable obsession*
C^res: a city without ethics or taboos, rilled by instincts and
lusts. These are the slums—immutable, eternal, home to those
poor, caged souls stricken with a perpetual melancholy
After three years, Riki unexpectedly returns to 2 ’eres, but all
is not well. The ^Charisma ' 1 of the slums is a changed man.
Faced with growing suspicion that he’s lost his spark, and
haunted by the memory of what happened during (hose three
years away from the slums* Riki finds himself pulled into the
escalating gang warfare as rivals attempt to wipe out his pack
before they can regroup under their newly-returned leader.
And then there is the frighteningly cold, regrettably familiar
man he meets by chance one day: the beautiful lason Mink.
What secrets lie behind the smile of that bewitching Blondy?
Ri.ko Yoshibara*. classic yasi story tomes reimagioed
since its original incarnation, revised slightly but sull as
dark and relevant as ever. Ai No Kusabi remains Yoshihara’s
exemplification of the vision of June, and is certain to enthrall
those new to the series and well as long-time fans!
NOVEL / DRAMA / ROMANCE